When we posted the story about BOISE CITY COUNCILORS collecting $150 monthly for in-town automobile and cell phone use, we reasoned the text messages and phone records would be public. Their numbers should also be public.
Third District Court in Caldwell was ahead of us as it turned out. During the trial of former prosecutor John Bujak, a judge ordered the current prosecutor to release text message exchanges from his county phone to the editor of the Idaho Press Tribune.
As we discussed the issue with current and former state employees, they told the GUARDIAN all sorts of things about government issued cell phones. From the employee who feared his boss was simply using the phone’s GPS feature to track him to the state lawyer not wanting to have a record of his messages and contacts “out there for scrutiny,” there were plenty of concerns about cell phones. Others quickly explained and justified the expense.
We contacted a sampling of state agencies and found the Idaho State Police don’t issue cell phones because commanders came to the conclusion their sophisticated radio communication system and in-car computers did the job. Troopers are welcome to carry personal cell phones. In Boise, coppers are issued phones with data packages which cost taxpayers $50 each per month. Most also carry a personal cell phone.
When it came to the costs, we did a little work with the State Controller and found during the four and a half months between July 1 and November 16, Idaho taxpayers paid $783,177 to cell phone providers. The Dept. of Health and Welfare had the “top billing” with charges totaling about $130,000.
Fully one-third (more than 600) of the entire Idaho Department of Transportation staff of about 1800 staffers carry public-funded cell phones. Spokesman at several state agencies told us the increased use of e-mail and internet “apps” have made it necessary for state workers to be “connected.”
Policies regarding the availability of phone numbers are also wide ranging. Some departments such as Boise Parks claim they will give you the cell number of any employee who carries a city-issued phone. With abbreviated government listings in the commercial telephone directories and most people using the internet to “contact” government, it is also becoming easier for public servants to use their cell phones to decide which calls to answer or ignore. “Is John Doe in,” has become an irrelevant question these days.
You can always send an e-mail or text message, but don’t forget it is a public record available for anyone to read.
To insure more advertising-free Boise Guardian news, please consider financial support.