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Detroit — Wayne County commissioners and Sheriff Benny Napoleon are squabbling over $18,000 officials say Napoleon needs to pay back the county for campaign-related expenses incurred last year.

A review by the county's auditor general's office said Napoleon owes more than $2,200 for gas and insurance, and for using a county vehicle — a 2011 GMC Yukon — and nearly $16,000 for the time of a deputy tasked with driving and being with Napoleon during his failed campaign for Detroit mayor.

The investigation began after the issue of using a county-owned vehicle while campaigning came up in a television interview in November. Napoleon had said he would pay back the money if the county's ethics board ruled it was improper.

Last week, the board ruled an ordinance forbids him to use the vehicle and the time of a county-paid employee for campaign events and he should pay the money back.

But the ruling of the ethics board started a legal fight, said Mark Brewer, Napoleon's private attorney who is being paid through Napoleon's campaign funds. Brewer said state and federal laws trump the county's ordinance and that Napoleon was being unfairly singled out in a process that allows sheriffs throughout the state to use county vehicles while campaigning.

Commissioner Raymond Basham, D-Taylor, asked Brewer for clarification on the state and federal laws.

Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriff's Association, said the nature of the job requires a sheriff to be on call because he must be available to respond to calls for service or direct deputies to the scene.

"I am not familiar with any counties in the state of Michigan that prohibit or restrict the sheriffs' use of their official vehicle," he told commissioners recently.

Napoleon, as sheriff, is on call 24 hours a day, Brewer said, and needs to have a well-equipped vehicle ready for use.

"The vehicle the county assigns to him is unique. It's a mobile command office," Brewer told the commission audit subcommittee Wednesday. "You can't put him in a civilian vehicle and expect him to do the job he is doing."

In addition, the deputy sheriff who was with Napoleon during the campaign serves as his security detail — required given the sheriff's position.

Napoleon is seeking the opinion of the state's attorney general. Meanwhile, the disputed $18,186 has been put in an escrow account, pending an attorney general ruling, Brewer said.

spardo@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2112

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