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County used 922,097 minutes on cell phones

Adams County spends an average of $3,559 a month on employee cell phones, a number that dropped only slightly in the first month of a new contract expected to save nearly $13,000 during the next two years.

Cell phone records from a 12-month period showed a $628.43 monthly bill for one county supervisor — later reported to be incorrect — a full year’s worth of charges for a downloadable celebrity news service on a sheriff’s deputy phone and a road department employee who apparently used his taxpayer funded cell phone for an average of 7 hours per day, including weekends.

Until mid-May of this year, the bulk of the county’s average 57 phones were on AT&T plans. The remaining phones — 17 at the Adams County Sheriff’s Office — were on Cellular South.

The county has 241 employees.

A decision in April to cancel the county’s AT&T contract and switch everyone to Cellular South was not only a cost saving move, the board of supervisors said at the time, but also an attempt to decrease the amount of paperwork currently handled by county employees.

The change in carriers was expected to help the county’s accounting clerks because Cellular South would reportedly send bills electronically. In addition, Cellular South would reportedly include a breakdown of the bills by county department, something that was formerly done manually by county personnel, President Darryl Grennell said at the time of the switch.

But accounting department head Patsy Bryant said this week that Cellular South is not currently sending bills electronically or separating charges by department, though the process is now much quicker for county employees because of changes in the bills. Grennell said Friday was the first he heard that the desired changes had not occurred.

In the first billing cycle with Cellular South, mid-May to mid-June, the county spent $3,414.94, or $144 less than the previous year’s average monthly bill. The May to June period did include two one-time charges totaling $55.98 for cell phone carrying cases.

That number factors in the phone bills of three county supervisors who, after switching from AT&T to Cellular South were unhappy with their service and switched back to AT&T. It also includes the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, which was already using Cellular South.

Noteworthy

An analysis of county phone bills for a year’s time showed a total bill of $42,710.16 for the year. Those bills include 922,097 minutes used. Both the total bill and total minutes used include county phones on AT&T and sheriff’s office phones on Cellular South.

The county’s AT&T plan allowed for 60,000 total minutes for all phones per month, before additional charges were incurred.

The ASCO’s Cellular South bills indicate users were on a variety of calling plans.

The bills include the following:

– A $628.48 bill for May 18 to June 17, 2009, for Supervisor Henry Watts.

After The Democrat submitted a request to the chancery clerk’s office for Watts’ complete phone bill, Watts called the newspaper to say the bill was in error.

Watts said he was billed $603 for a 60,300-kilobyte data transfer on his iPhone. After The Democrat’s inquiry, the county contacted AT&T and reportedly discovered that Watts’ account was overcharged.

The county was reportedly credited $573.

Watts said he never saw the charges and was not made privy to the bill. He said the issue should have been caught by the former county administrator, who announced her resignation in March, but was fired before her planned departure day.

– From March 23, 2009, to Feb. 22, 2010, ACSO Deputy Charles Sims’ phone was billed $9.99 a month for Predicto Mobile, a celebrity news service.

From April 23, 2009, to Dec. 22, 2009, his phone was billed $9.99 a month for GamerData Info Alerts.

Sims said last week that he had no idea what the downloads were and did not know his phone had been billed $189.81 for them.

“I don’t know how to pull up games,” he said. “Me and this Blackberry are still having problems, and I’ve had it for over a year.”

Sims said he only uses the phone for calls, Internet access and its camera.

“Even if I do take the pictures, someone else has to take them off there for me,” he said.

In March 2010, $39.96 from Sims’ extra charges was refunded. The downloadable programs have now been discontinued.

– Road crew foreman Michael Chatman is the county’s leading user of cell phone minutes.

He used a total of 68,520 on the year, including 12,767 in one month and 11,769 in another.

Road crew manager Clarence “Curly” Jones only used 13,640 minutes the entire year.

The average total usage of minutes per year among all county employees is 23,675.

Jones said he was approached by the board of supervisors about Chatman’s phone usage approximately two months ago.

Chatman’s highest minute usage was in January through April 2010.

“I have talked with him about the minutes he used and told him to use less,” Jones said.

In order for Chatman to use 12,767 minutes in one month, he had to be talking an average of 7.09 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I don’t know how I used so many minutes,” Chatman said. “I must have had a lot of incoming calls.”

In his most talkative month, the additional charges billed to Chatman’s phone number were $43.50.

– Inventory Clerk Angela Hutchins had a county cell phone for five months of the year that she never used.

The county paid $51.70 on the year for a cell phone Hutchins said she lost.

“When I lost my phone, I said, ‘Never mind about replacing it,’” Hutchins said. “I told people to call me on my (personal) cell phone.”

When Hutchins’ phone was turned off, her phone number was transferred to an Internet connect card given to Coroner James Lee. For the remaining seven months of the year, his total bill was $505.71.

Lee said he uses the Internet connect card to send data — photos and information — from a death scenes.

– A phone given to the Adams County Youth Drug Court sent and received 1,213 text or multimedia messages — or 23 pages of the phone bill — from March 18, to April 17, 2010.

The phone has an unlimited messaging plan.

A phone registered to the Adams County Coroner’s Office, also on an unlimited messaging plan, sent and received 1,704 text or multimedia messages in the same time period. Lee said the messages also included photos sent from death scenes.

– Three phones are registered to Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders. Sanders could not be reached for comment after repeated attempts, but Grennell said he suspected the extra phones were assigned to drug court officials.

– The number of phones charged to the ACSO budget, excluding Metro Narcotics, has crept up over the year.

From April to mid-July 2009, the ACSO had 13 phones. The number dropped to 12 from mid-July to mid-August.

From that point to mid-December the office had 13 phones again.

The number of ACSO phones peaked at 18 in March. The May to June 2010 bill showed 17 ACSO phones.

Sheriff’s office administrator Maj. Debbie Gee said no written policy regarding who gets a cell phone and who does not.

Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said those who have cell phones are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

He said the number of phones has increased because his administration opted to provide them to patrol supervisors, the victims’ assistance coordinator — a new position — and a court administrator.

Currently, phone records show Mayfield has two taxpayer-funded phone lines, one of which is listed as a netbook, a laptop with Internet connection.

New plan

In the first month of the new Cellular South plan, the county had 55 phones, including the sheriff’s office.

The county still pays for three AT&T phones, those of supervisors Thomas “Boo” Campbell, S.E. “Spanky” Felter and Watts.

“We couldn’t get service out in our areas of the county,” Felter said. “Plus the iPhone is easier than the (HTC Hero), but not being able to get service out where we needed it was the main thing.”

Cellular South’s bills detail roaming charges, assessed to any location outside of Mississippi.

Though most of the county’s plans do not charge for roaming, incoming and outgoing calls are listed for each user.

In one month’s time — May to June 2010 — roaming calls were placed from seven states, including Michigan, Florida and Texas.

Roamers included the litter crew, which placed five calls to Natchez from Louisiana and received eight calls while in Louisiana.

The calls were to and from 10 different phone numbers.

Crew supervisor ACSO Maj. Billy Neely said the crew does travel to Concordia Parish for vehicle maintenance, but should not be placing calls while on the road, since the phone is for emergencies only.

“As far as I know, they should not have been using that phone at all,” Neely said. “Sometimes, we have problems with inmates and we need deputies to go assist or other emergencies. That phone is only supposed to be used for emergency business.”

Judge Patricia Dunmore was charged for 121 roaming calls during the month-long billing cycle. Her roaming charges totaled $157.47.

Dunmore’s calls were made and received in Michigan from May 27 to June 3; in Georgia on May 27; and in Louisiana on May 26.

Dunmore could not be reached for comment after repeated attempts.

Angela Dyer, who works in the Office of Emergency Management, had 164 roaming calls, but received no extra charges for them.

Her calls were made and received in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Louisiana.

Emergency Management Director Stan Owens said the Texas trip was for county business, but the Georgia trip was a personal vacation.

Under the Cellular South Plan, Justice Court Judge Charlie Vess was also charged $19.98 total for two subscription based programs — Weather Alerts and News Alerts.

Vess said Friday that he was unaware of the charges and had not intentionally downloaded them.

Like others in the county, Vess said adjusting to the new phone and service plan has been tough at times.

The need

Cell phones have made county government more effective, Grennell said, and allowed everyone to operate more efficiently.

“When I first got on the board, we were given handheld, Walkie-Talkie-like radio devices,” Grennell said.

With cell phones, Grennell said the county not only has better access to the different departments, but with other county officials and even people who represent taxpayers on the state level.

“I even have the number to Obama’s person assigned to counties in my phone,” Grennell said.

In addition, for the elected supervisors, the phones allow the public to reach them, Grennell said.

“The person who just called me was a constituent calling in concern with a problem he is facing,” Grennell said.

“I work all day, doing county stuff, and I teach at Alcorn State University,” Grennell said. “Often, when I’m off work, I’m at a community meeting that I volunteer with, so I’m home late.”

Felter agreed, saying his phone is what connects him to his county job.

“This phone is basically my office,” Felter said. “I don’t have an office phone or computer. I get all of my county calls and e-mails on (my iPhone).”

But Board of Supervisors Vice President Mike Lazarus said he thinks taxpayers may be paying for too many county phones.

Lazarus has a phone purchased by the county, but he pays the monthly bill from his own pocket.

“The people who have office jobs — I’m not sure why they need it,” Lazarus said. “Once they leave their office, I’m sure they don’t go home and do any county business.

“I’d like to see us cut back, but it’d take more than me to put a stop to it.”

Lazarus said he decided to pay for his own phone because he didn’t know how to keep personal and county business separate, and didn’t want to have two phones, like Watts does.

Lazarus also said he doesn’t think the switch from AT&T to Cellular South will save as much money as originally predicted, saying the first month’s bill was higher than the county anticipated it would be.

“I don’t know if it is saving the county anything, like we were promised,” Lazarus said.

When Lazarus got his first bill from Cellular South, it was higher than he expected.

“It had a couple of charges on it that it wasn’t supposed to have,” Lazarus said. “But I talked to them and got it down to $60 a month.”

Gee, of the sheriff’s office, headed up the committee that recommended changing from AT&T to Cellular South.

But she said Friday that the committee’s involvement with the process ended at the recommendation. Tracking bills is now the responsibility of the accounting department.

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