Responding as they did when gasoline and diesel fuel went missing from the public trough, Wilkes-Barre City staffers said they’ll look into why city employees are racking up the minutes on taxpayer-funded cell phones.
Duh, we had no idea, but we’re on it.
In a front-page article titled “Talk Isn’t Cheap,” The Times Leader reported Sunday that the city, which is planning to raise taxes by 31-percent, just laid off 11 firefighters and four public works department employees, has been paying an average $35,000 to $40,000 a year for 60 employees to have cell phones. The paper listed the top 10 users, which revealed that Wilkes-Barre actually employs a bioterrorism coordinator. Who knew?
So now that the latest cat is out of the bag, city Administrator Marie McCormick and Administrative Coordinator Drew – always good for a laugh – McLaughlin said cell phones are important, but they are planning to reduce the number in use and/or instead give employees a stipend for using their phones strictly for business purposes. As opposed to allowing them to call the missus to ask what’s for dinner.
The TL learned that dozens of city employees routinely incurred excess usage charges, costing city taxpayers an additional $2,452 in 2011 and $1,560 for the first nine months of this year. TL Staff Writer Terrie Morgan-Besecker also reported that one phone assigned to a city health inspector, who left in 2010, was not canceled until 2011, which cost an unnecessary $302. In this case, not talking isn’t cheap.
At least the city has a policy which says that these phones are only to be used for city business. HaHaHaHaHa. Wasn’t there also a policy in place for using city-owned fuel? And where did that get us? Oh, yeah, a $26,000 state fine for 67,000 gallons of unaccounted for gasoline and diesel fuel.
“Obviously, if there was an abuse of phones for personal use, that’s a concern to us,” said Mr. Mc -laugh -lin. But, he said, “From a strictly fiscal and budget perspective, those issues do not translate into wasted taxpayer funds.” Drew is paid to utter such inanities.
Drew, forget “if there was an abuse.” Ms. Besecker has already shown pretty conclusively that there was, including employees using their phones at night and on weekends when they work day shifts. Drew said employees are told that their phones are for city business but that there is no zero tolerance in force. That’s rather obvious, wouldn’t you say?
For the record, we have no problem with Mayor Tom Leighton having a cell phone. After all, he is on the job 24 hours a day. That’s why he said he helped himself to free gas. It’s surprising he ranks number 9 in top phone usage instead of number 1. With all the angry taxpayers out there, it’s odd his phone hasn’t been ringing off the hook. Does everyone have his cell phone number?
You have to give TL photographer Aimee Dilger credit. She captured a great photo of the mayor either texting someone or checking his messages on his cell phone.
The TL also learned that city mechanic, Kevin Egroff, used the most voice minutes, on average 10 hours a week. Marie McCormick said he was given a phone so he could call workers on the road and in case he needed to call the public works department while at an auto parts store. Perhaps it would be cheaper if Mr. Egroff asked what he needed to buy there before leaving the city garage.
City council also has cell phones even though the three newest members never requested them. Councilman Bill Barrett, who told the TL that he doesn’t have a personal cellphone (as does the rest of the planet), said the phones are important so constituents can more readily contact their council representatives. We trust that city residents have those phone numbers.
But at least Barrett said, given the city’s financial woes, he’d be willing to pay for the charges rather than give back the phone. So what’s he waiting for?
We concede that, all things considered, the cost of all these cellphones, may seem like a drop in the bucket, and some officials should have them, but all these drops, which keep surfacing, do add up.
Maybe we should be thankful that city employees weren’t also given iPads. They weren’t, were they?
- Betty Roccograndi