by Mike Sharkey
Citing a significant increase in the number of cellular phones being used by employees, the City will implement a uniform cell phone policy effective Aug. 1.
In a memo to elected officials, department directors and agency heads, Director of Administration and Finance Cal Ray said the policy has been created to ensure the phones are being used primarily for City business and little or no personal use. Ray stressed that the policy was not created as a result of cell phone abuse, but rather as an across-the-board method for tracking who has City-issued cell phones, how they are using them, when they are making calls and the length of the calls.
“They are pretty darned good about providing detailed billings each month,” said Ray, referring to each of the City’s 12 departments. “They have that information at their fingertips.”
The City currently has 1,223 cell phones in use on a virtual daily basis, a dramatic rise from the almost 500 cell phones the City owned and used in 1998-99. However, of those 1,223 phones, 300 of them are radio (walkie-talkie) only Nextel phones.
Several departments rely on cell phones much more than others. Public Works, for instance, which also includes Building & Zoning, is one of the City’s heaviest cell phone users because quite often inspectors have to speak with each other, property owners or supervisors numerous times during the day. That department will have a little more leeway when it comes to monthly usage.
The City is also asking that each department head designate one employee to take on the task of “wireless cellular coordinator.” The wireless cellular coordinator will be responsible for notifying the Information Technology Division of any needed adjustments to cell phone invoices, usage requests and for providing each department head with a comprehensive, monthly cell phone report.
ITD will provide each department with their own comprehensive report which will break down each cell phone bill into incoming and outgoing calls, how long each call was and how much the City was billed. Any discrepancies will be reviewed by the wireless cellular coordinator, the department head and the user.
Mike O’Leary of the City’s ITD said the City is using two cell phone carriers and both plans offer an adequate number of minutes per month at a fair price. Cingular’s $45 plan includes 600 minutes/month with a roll over clause, while Nextel’s plan provides 500 anytime minutes. However, if approved by a department head, division chief or elected official, a City employee may choose one of the many other options that exist.
O’Leary said both plans should accommodate all but the heaviest users.
“I would think that’s the reason we put them [the plans] in there,” said O’Leary. “They can request a higher plan, but they have to tell their department head, division chief or elected official why.
“We have some high-end users, but by far most are well within the plan. What we ran into was that some departments had internal policies. I think they felt needed an all-encompassing policy.”
One interesting aspect of the policy — which all City-owned cell users will be required to sign — is safety. The policy states that employees from landscapers to City Council members agree not to use their phones during transit. Walking down the sidewalk is fine, driving while talking isn’t.
“One thing they found was in looking at other municipalities like San Diego and Miami is that they had that [a safety clause] in their policy,” said O’Leary. “It’s something that will probably be a law here soon anyway, so we had the safety aspect thrown in there. But it will be virtually impossible to enforce.”
Ray said the policy is not an ordinance or resolution and does not require Council approval to implement.