Electric car builder runs into bureaucratic sparks

He got into trouble at work after speaking out about car.

July 17, 2010 

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SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Mark Bush pulling an electical cord from the trunk of his car, to be plugged into an electrical outlet in the garage.

MARCI STENBERG — Merced Sun-Star

All Mark Bush wanted to do was plug his electric car in at the Merced County Jail and juvenile hall where he works as a contract nurse.

Little did Bush know that a three-pronged plug and an electric car would be at fault for the loss of half his income.

Not only did both departments tell Bush recently that he can't plug his homemade electric car in at work, but now the probation department has barred him from working at the Iris Garrett Juvenile Justice Correctional Complex where he used to work 16 hours a week.

"I am being punished for making so much noise about it. I'm sure about that," said Bush. "They have not given me a reason yet for not allowing me on that premises."

The probation department told the Sun-Star on Friday that Bush was reassigned because he didn't follow orders not to park his car in a secure lot.

After media coverage earlier this week about Bush's inability to plug in at work, he was told Thursday that he'd not be allowed inside the juvenile facility, he said.

"It's not about a parking spot for me, it's more about people coming to terms with the fact the we are going to have to deal with alternative energy vehicles," said Bush. Alternative types of transportation are going to become the norm as gasoline becomes more expensive, said Bush. Workplaces should start getting used to that, he added.

Bush started building his $20,000 electric car in his Delhi garage in 2008 because he was fed up with the environmental damage caused by his and other gas powered automobiles. He also didn't want to pay for gas anymore.

Bush's plan was to drive the 56-mile round-trip journey to work and back each day and charge his batteries during his shift.

His car only draws a relatively small amount of electricity, so he didn't think it would be a problem. But last weekend when he first plugged his car in at the county's juvenile facility, he was told he couldn't charge the vehicle or park where he had parked. They did not give him a reason at the time.

Earlier this week the department told the Sun-Star their reasoning for denying him access to a plug was because they needed it -- the plug is one of many at the facility, said Bush -- for their golf cart. They also said it would be wrong to allow Bush to use public funds to pay for the electricity.

While he was able to charge up at the nearby John Latorraca Correctional Center after being told to move his car from the juvenile facility, the sheriff's department told him he couldn't use their facility for charging in the future either.

Bush has said he's willing to pay for any electricity he uses, however nominal.

After being shot down by both departments, Bush called the media. When a newspaper article appeared and his story was covered by a local television station Bush got a call. On Thursday, he was informed by his boss that he wouldn't be allowed to enter the juvenile hall.

The Merced County Probation Department's spokeswoman, Sarah Jimenez, said Bush is no longer assigned to the juvenile facility. "Mr. Bush failed to follow directives given to him and the department asked if he could be reassigned," she said.

Jimenez said Bush was reassigned because he didn't follow a directive not to park his car in the juvenile facility's secured parking area on July 11.

Bush claims he was just trying to get answers through the chain of command as to why he wasn't allowed to park there, not disobey orders. Bush said he moved the car 45 minutes after they asked him to, since he needed to find a place to plug it in before moving it so he could get home.

Whatever the reason for his reassignment, Bush said he's not being treated fairly. People charge their phones and computers at work, said Bush. Why not his car?

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.

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