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Council OKs smart phones for members on taxpayers’ dime

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POSTED February 1, 2012 1:35 a.m.

LATHROP – Staying plugged in to city business will be a lot easier for at least one Lathrop council member taking advantage of a new perk.

Last week the Lathrop City Council voted 3-1 – Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos was absent and Martha Salcedo cast the dissenting vote – to approve a consent item that makes it possible for members of the council to receive city-issued smart phones.

The item specifically mentioned Blackberry-branded devices – typically reserved for department heads – and made no mention of the funding mechanism or the usage allotment that members of the council would receive.

Salcedo was vocal in her opposition and felt that it would be more prudent for those who use their personal devices for city business to submit receipts for reimbursement. It is something that she said she wouldn’t have to do because her cellular carrier offers an unlimited use plan for a flat monthly fee.

“I just don’t feel comfortable that we each get a city phone,” she said.

According to city finance director Terry Vigna, the cost for the phones and the service would come from savings that were negotiated by the IT director at the end of their last contract – $300 a month.

The cost of the phones would be a one-time fee at the city’s discounted rate, she said, and there would likely be a choice of one of three devices – the Blackberry unit that are used by department heads and administrative personnel, a standard cellular phone, or a rugged device used by maintenance supervisors and staffers that need the extra durability.

And a variety of different usage options exist, Vigna said.

Some who use phones for city business are allotted a certain number of talk minutes, while others are placed on a pay-per-minute plan because they utilize the multimedia functions like built-in messaging applications and push email more than they actually make calls.

Vice Mayor Christopher Mateo indicated that he’s happy with his current cellular service and has no desire to have two mobile devices. Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal told the council that he wouldn’t be taking one because he already has an unlimited use plan through his provider. Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos, who was out of the country at the time of last week’s meeting, said he was furious when he heard what had transpired.

Councilman Omar Ornelas, when contacted via e-mail after returning from vacation, said that he had put in for one of the city-issued phones and believed that it was going to be a Blackberry.

The reason, he said, that he wanted to be a part of Lathrop’s cellular network was so that he could separate his personal cellular phone from the work that he does for the city – noting that everything done under the banner of Lathrop is public record and if anything he ever does is called into question he can simply hand over the city Blackberry. He wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that with personal phone, he said.

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