City reduces cell phone usage

Published 9:57 pm Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Starting today, fewer Suffolk city employees will have city-issued mobile phones.

As a money-saving measure, the city has announced a change in its policy for employee mobile communications devices.

“This was one of the cost-cutting measures utilized to close the $9.3 million budget gap,” said city spokeswoman Debbie George.

The new policy states that each city department and division will be allocated up to one city-issued Blackberry or personal digital assistant. The BlackBerry is a line of handheld wireless devices that provide wireless telephone, text messaging, e-mail and Internet access.

The BlackBerry or PDA device issued to each department can be assigned by the department head as needed to conduct city business, according to a copy of the policy City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn sent to City Council members and constitutional officers. All other employees previously assigned a BlackBerry or PDA were to return their devices to the purchasing division by the close of business Tuesday.

In addition, employees who previously were issued cellular phones were required to return them to their supervisors by Tuesday. Certain city employees now will be eligible to receive a $20 per month stipend toward the use of their personal device for city business.

To be eligible for the stipend, employees must be identified by their department head as needing such devices to perform essential job functions, and also must meet one of the following criteria:

Wireless communication access is necessary to ensure the safety of the employee

Immediate direct communication and responsiveness is necessary to conduct assigned duties, and there is frequently no access to a landline phone or city radio system

The employee performs more than half of his job duties outside the office, and does not have access to a city radio system

City employees who receive the stipend will be responsible for ensuring that their personal phones are operational, and must give their phone numbers to their department head. In addition, employees who use city-issued devices or receive the stipend should be aware that voice communications, e-mails, data communications and other information transmitted, received or stored on the devices may be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, the policy states.

George did not know if the $20 stipend would be subject to taxation by the state and federal governments.

The five constitutional officers in Suffolk, who are elected and do not report to the city manager but still receive budget money from the city, have the discretion to prioritize the use of the wireless communication money in their budget, according to Cuffee-Glenn’s letter. However, she encouraged them to participate in the same way as other city departments.