After finding out that a public works laborer racked up about $400 in private calls and text messages on his city cellphone, Mayor Charles Sammarone is looking not only to enforce Youngstown’s cellphone policies, but toughen them.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t pay for personal calls,” Sammarone said Wednesday. “If it’s a city phone, all you need is the ability to call in and call out. You don’t need texting or smartphones or games on the phone.”
The city ran more efficiently without cellphones, said Sammarone, who doesn’t text message or use a computer.
“Cellphones and computers are the lazy man’s way of communicating,” he said. “All we need are cheap [cell] phones and cheap plans. I’ve got a basic phone and it serves me fine.”
The finance department recently contacted Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works, after noticing that the cellphone bill of Jim Clacko, a traffic-signal laborer hired in July, was about $400 over the past three months. Shasho then told the mayor about the problem.
Although the city has a cellphone policy, the city won’t discipline Clacko since it was never shown to him, Sammarone said.
“I told the kid to use common sense, but when he was given a phone he wasn’t given the city’s policy on using it,” he said.
After getting a city cellphone, a written copy of its policy — adopted Jan. 31, 2008, by the board of control — is to be given to an employee, Sammarone said.
The policy requires city workers to pay for any costs associated with personal use; they shouldn’t be on the phone for more than 15 minutes at a time without a documented reason; and they need to know the features of the phones so as not to incur additional costs.
Department heads are supposed to provide the policy to those who receive city-issued cells, but haven’t done so for about two years, said Carol Peters, the city’s purchasing agent. The employee, that person’s supervisor and department head are supposed to sign the policy.
Clacko used the city phone for text messaging, and that particular phone didn’t have that as a standard feature, resulting in most of the $400 in fees he incurred, Shasho said. Clacko had the phone taken from him and is reimbursing the city, Shasho said.
Sammarone said he, Peters and city Law Director Anthony Farris will review the current policy over the next few weeks and make changes to improve it. Also, department heads will be required to review the bills of their employees to make sure that if there are personal calls, a reason is given by workers and the city is reimbursed any costs, Sammarone said.
Also, the city may review previous cellphone bills to see if employees used them for private use and seek reimbursement, he said.
The mayor said he didn’t know if this is a widespread problem or an isolated one.
Sammarone wants to know who has city phones, particularly smartphones, and for there to be justification for employees needing them.
There are 95 city-issued cellphones with the monthly bill averaging about $5,000, Peters said. There are about 20 smartphones, but that number needed to be verified, she said.
“I don’t know if we need that many phones,” Sammarone said.
The phones are given primarily to department heads and those who work out of the office in the water, sewer and street departments, Peters said.
As for smartphones, the decisions to purchase them come from department heads, Peters said.
Shasho has a city-issued iPhone 4, a smartphone.
“I use it to access my work email when I’m out of the office,” he said. “If it wasn’t for email access, I’d use my personal phone, which I do for city business.”
Sammarone said cracking down on cellphone use is part of his accountability program that includes time cards for city workers and GPS tracking devices in city-owned cars.