Public Safety Commissioner Logs 35,000 Miles Commuting to Work

Public Safety Commissioner Logs 35,000 Miles Commuting to Work

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's top law enforcement officer is spending more money on gas than any other state executive on a 300-mile commute between his office and his southern Utah home.

Public Safety Commissioner Robert Flowers has logged 35,000 miles on three successive state vehicles over five years, spending $3,500 on gasoline along the way.

Taxpayers are paying for it, and law enforcement veterans say it could keep Flowers from his command post in an emergency.

Even Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s own transition team questioned Flowers' long commute.

"Flowers will need to show his commitment to the department by relocating his home to the Wasatch Front, at least within 45 minutes of the department," the panel advised Huntsman.

"His current residence (near) St. George is a concern, especially if air traffic and ground mobility were restricted by a major event. Flowers must be closer to the center of events," said a report prepared when Huntsman, a Republican, took office in January.

Flowers' commute was approved by former Gov. Mike Leavitt, who picked Flowers, then St. George police chief, to oversee preparations for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Flowers had been a longtime Public Safety employee.

Flowers said he works hard for taxpayers and "the state doesn't end at the Wasatch Front. I'm all over the state all the time. I've actually had to leave Salt Lake" for emergencies in southern Utah. "It has not been a problem thus far."

Experts say the long commute could leave Flowers stranded from a natural disaster or terrorist attack that disrupts communications systems or highways.

"That person should be located in the place that his services could be utilized most effectively," said Weber State University law enforcement professor Robert Wadman, a former police chief in Aurora, Ill., and Omaha, Neb., who once served as Utah's deputy public safety commissioner.

Flowers rents an apartment in Salt Lake County for week nights and travels to Santa Clara for long weekends with his wife and children. For four years, the arrangement went unquestioned. Huntsman said he "strongly recommended" and expects Flowers to move north, but the chief faces no deadline.

Flowers said he has looked at homes along the Wasatch Front, but is reluctant to uproot his young stepchildren from their elementary school or pull his wife away from her job.

Huntsman said he plans to revisit Flowers' commute at the end of the year. Living close to a police agency's population center "is required of a first-response officer. It isn't of a policy officer. And he is the public safety leader for the entire state," Huntsman said. "When he's on the road, he's on duty. And he's here during the week."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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