Officials’ cell phone records should be readily available.
The public must remain vigilant in holding public officials accountable for how they are spending our money – not only by scrutinizing budgets but also by keeping watch on their day-to-day spending.
A case in point: Cell phone use by local government and school officials.
The Observer-Dispatch requested the work-related cell phone records from four local officials nearly a month ago. For one reason or another, the records containing call logs have yet to be received.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said even though some of the local governments say the information is coming, such delays fly in the face of the purpose of open-government law. He says public officials should promptly make cell-phone information available to the public.
Freeman’s right. It’s not like the information requested needs to be drawn from a complex number of sources. It’s a phone bill. Government should be doing everything in its power to make it easy for the public to obtain records, not find ways to make it more difficult.
Oneida County, for instance, sent the O-D billing records for Oneida County Executive Picente’s cell phone, but AT&T doesn’t provide the county with call logs, said Linda Dillon, a county attorney. A special request would have to be made for those, she said, and the county doesn’t have to make that request because the files aren’t in its possession.
Maybe not. But the right thing to do would be to find a way to make those call logs easily accessible for the people who pay the phone bill.
Herkimer County Administrator James Wallace said his phone records were delayed after it was determined that people’s private cell-phone numbers could be redacted. Calls had to be made to find out what calls he made to private cell phones.
But while there might be some instances where privacy or confidentiality might justify a redaction, the public entity still should be required to provide information relative to what the call was about – not unlike the Open Meetings rule on executive sessions.
Public scrutiny of such things is imperative. If left unchecked, misspent public money could go undetected. Just last week, Gov. David Paterson told the New York Daily News that he reimbursed his campaign for two hotel stays for which he can’t recall the circumstances of the stay or even who stayed at the hotel on those nights. His aides’ review also found several cases where Paterson used campaign money to pay for men’s suits, furniture and bar tabs.
The reimbursements come after Paterson admitted to the Daily News that he may have used his campaign credit card to pay for a hotel visit with one of his lovers. The personal payments, all of which Paterson later repaid, surfaced in an internal review by the governor’s campaign lawyer, Henry Berger.
Bottom line: You wouldn’t turn over your hard-earned money to an investment firm without knowing exactly where it was going. Likewise, the taxes you pay are a substantial personal investment in your community. The people who take your money have an obligation to tell you how it’s being spent.