March 30, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Calling planet Earth
By Jody Reese

I've got a great idea that will save the city thousands a year out of its $250 million budget. Mayor Frank Guinta should eliminate all city phones, e-mail and Internet access because employees use them for personal calls, messages and reading hippopress.com.

That's right, city employees, the waste has gone on long enough. City government needs to crack down on these wasteful spenders, wasting taxpayer dollars on these wasteful personal uses of city property.

This city government needs to be run like a business, where employees would never get away with calling home to make sure the sitter will stay past five. Come on, we've got to stop this abuse now! The next thing city employees will demand is free donuts.

It's wasteful spending like this that is the real cause of these property taxes, not the constant need to fix roads, plow streets and keep police patrolling. Without them, we'd be living is a tax-free utopia with prime rib and cake for all.

In what has become all-too commonplace over at the New Hampshire Union Leader, a “gotcha” story ran March 27 about how school district employees were using their district-issued cell phones for personal use (records for the story were provided by gadfly Joe Lavesseur).

It seems that some school employees have made — gasp! — personal calls on phones provided to them by the school district. The fact that the school district's calling plan pools the minutes for all phones or that most of the personal calls were made on nights and weekend minutes — and that these personal calls didn't cost anyone a dime — didn't keep the story from getting splashed all over the front page or the mayor from jumping in to demand that those offending cell phones be turned off.

Perhaps, the district could afford to reduce the number of cell phones it gives out to staffers (a total cost of $30,000 a year), but that is a very different issue from eliminating them because staffers make personal calls on them — especially when those calls cost tax payers no money.

So what's the big issue here? Is it really that city employees use city equipment, such as cell phones, office phones and Internet, for personal use? Because some of that is always going to happen. Employees at Hippo, the Union Leader and, yes, in city government call their spouses, set up babysitting, check on NCAA scores and on occasion talk to mom. Is is that the personal calls were made on a cell phone? Are those somehow more luxurious than landlines?

No, of course not. As long as personal calls and personal Internet use doesn't get in the way of employees' work and is reasonable, private employers count it as part of the cost of doing business. Many private employers believe that allowing some personal time at work is good for productivity and helps retain good employees.

But that's not even the issue here. These school district employees aren't accused of making personal calls on the clock, but after work or on the weekends. Nonetheless, they are publicly held up to ridicule and accused of wasting tax payer money.

This is a silly issue, pushed by a silly man, publicized by a silly newspaper. It's too bad our new mayor didn't take this opportunity to wash the silly off himself and put this cell phone usage in its proper context.


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