Cell phones called vital to city employees

January 12, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

Cellular phone use has become a way of life for some Hagerstown government employees, who say it helps them stay accessible when out of the office.

Currently, 143 city employees use cell phones, Hagerstown spokeswoman Karen Giffin said. The city provided information on the city's cell phone use at The Herald-Mail's request.

Department managers decide which employees can have city cell phones, based on such factors as how often they are traveling on city businesses and how important it is that they be able to communicate with others when away from work, said John Budesky, director of administrative services.


The phones are only to be used for work-related calls and the employees are instructed to reimburse the city for any nonwork-related calls, he said.

"I think they are extremely important to our operations," Giffin said.

Giffin said that for her, the cell phones have proven to be helpful during city events for logistics and planning between city employees. They also were a great aid during planning for Hurricane Isabel, he said.

Six of the 10 biggest users of city cell phones for the first 10 months of the 2003 calendar year were police bike-patrol officers and detectives, according to documents provided by the city government.

When members of the Hagerstown Police Department's bike patrol talk to downtown merchants, the police ask them to call the offices directly - rather than through police dispatch - when they have nonemergency questions or problems, Police Chief Arthur Smith said.

The city spent $22,543 on cell phone expenses in the fiscal year that ended July 1, 2002, Giffin said. The amount increased to $33,364 during the fiscal year that ended July 1, 2003, she said.

As of Nov. 30, 2003, the bill for the current fiscal year is $14,154, she said.

The increase - from $22,543 to $33,364 - came as the city's code-compliance officers started using cell phones to implement existing policies and the new Rental Registration Ordinance, Budesky said.

John Lestitian, chief of code compliance, had the largest cell phone bill - $1,355 - for the first 10 months of calendar year 2003, according to city documents.

"I am a very difficult person to reach," Lestitian said. "I use it (the cell phone) in the field. It is a very valuable tool. I readily give my phone number to landlords and tenants."

The city has been working with its cell provider to get a more detailed billing system that will make it easier for employees to identify which calls were not related to city business, Budesky said.

The city finished that process this year, he said.

So far this year, city employees have reimbursed the city $2,307.10.

Under a draft city policy, the city may randomly review employees' cell phone expenses to make sure they need the phone and are using it for work-related calls, Budesky said.

Violating the city's policy on cell phones can get an employee suspended or fired, Budesky said.

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