Mobile phone policy frets commissioners

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A proposal by county staff to issue county-owned mobile devices to staff and county commissioners met with a barrage of questions Monday morning.

Two commissioners, Jimmy Clayton and Ray Jeffers, voiced concern about having to use county-issued phones for county business, instead of their personal phones.

“No one’s going to call this new number. You’re handicapping me by taking my email off my cellphone,” Jeffers said.

County manager Heidi York said the switch to county-owned phones and mobile devices gives the county greater control over its resources and aids in the ability to produce public records when they are requested.

“This policy is trying to use our county resources wisely, but also meet the state’s public records law,” York told commissioners. She said the switch to county-owned phones would cost the county $144,000 per year – about $23,000 per year more than it currently pays employees in the form of a monthly stipend for the use of their personal phones. The county would need about 200 phones to cover the county employees and commissioners. Not every employee in the county would be issued a county-owned device.

If commissioners choose to adopt the policy, they would be joining a growing number of local governments across the state who are moving toward the issuance of county-owned phones and electronic devices.

Clayton said he didn’t want an additional phone because he doesn’t use a county-issued email address. He gets all his emails, both public and private, through his personal email account on his personal cellphone.

“The worst case-scenario is someone calls for all your records and you’ve got a mess on your hands,” Clayton said.

That’s because no matter where the emails are housed, communications, including electronic communications, such as emails and texts about county business, are considered public records and would have to be produced if someone asks for them.

That means a commissioner could have to turn his personal cellphone in to a member of the county staff to allow him or her to retrieve texts and emails of a public nature if such a request were made. That would expose a commissioner’s private texts and emails to whatever county employee is tasked with retrieving the public documents, because he or she would have to examine each communication to determine if it was public or private.

According to York, the new policy would also create an automated archiving system which would allow county employees to fulfill public records requests without having access to the device where the electronic communications reside. Those communications would be stored electronically in a central location and could be more easily retrieved.

York also said the new policy would likely require employees to carry two phones with them if they want to conduct any personal business during work hours. York said the idea of carrying two phones was not popular among many on the staff, but she said the policy would forbid personal use on the county devices. Person County IT director Chris Martin said the idea of having two phones was appealing to some employees. “We’ve heard from some of the caseworkers in DSS. They like the fact that they would have an additional device because they don’t want clients to have their personal phone number,” Martin said.

Clayton asked about the possibility of instituting the policy for county employees, but leaving commissioners out of the process.

That idea drew a rebuke from Commissioner Kyle Puryear. “We say we’re no better than county employees and then you say we’re not including us. We’re not everyday county workers, but we would be creating an exception for ourselves,” Puryear said.

Commissioners agreed to delay action on the policy until next month. York said the county is under no time pressure to implement the policy, but she said she would need some guidance from commissioners about whether they want to move to the county-owned devices in time to include it in the budget for the upcoming year, which begins in July.

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