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Pinellas Park monitors employee phone records

The city's system can track incoming and outgoing numbers and the length of a call.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


PINELLAS PARK -- Big Brother is alive and well in city government: Officials are monitoring employees' phone records.

For City Manager Jerry Mudd, the monthly oversight is his newest effort to improve efficiency.

To some city employees, the monitoring is an invasion of privacy. The city's phones record every keystroke made on an outgoing call. If someone uses a credit card, that number becomes public record.

"It's a management tool," Mudd said Friday.

"We do have some concerns over what's considered personal calls and release of (private) information," said Jerry Lubick, head of the Pinellas Park firefighters union.

Lubick said neither the union nor firefighters want any personal calls to interfere with their job performance. But, he said, working a 24-hour shift means personal and private business calls sometimes have to be made.

That business could include banking or other activities that require personal data such as account numbers. The phone system records that information. Lubick said his members are worried about that information being posted on city computers and becoming public record.

Mudd said the city has long had the ability to monitor employees' phone records. The city's system keeps track of incoming and outgoing numbers and how long a person is on the phone.

Until recently, he said, the city hadn't used those records. That changed as staff members from the city's computer department started compiling the data. This month, the information was passed to department heads with instructions to monitor the bills.

The first report was printed out, Mudd said. In the future, the information will be accessible on the city's computer system.

The goals are twofold, Mudd said: first, to catch any employee who is making too many personal calls or spending time on something other than work; and to find out if an employee is too busy. In that case, Mudd said, the employee may need an assistant.

"This just allows us to be more responsible," Mudd said.

What's unclear is the motive. Mudd denied that any incident caused the change in policy.

"It's not about an incident, it's about a process," he said.

City monitoring of phone calls has been an issue before.

Early last year, an anonymous woman called the monthly Meet Your Mayor and Council television show and berated Mayor Bill Mischler for failing to do anything about a police captain who once had been accused of beating his wife.

The police unsuccessfully tried to identify the woman by tracing the incoming calls during that night's show.

The uproar against the police action prompted Mudd to order an untraceable phone line to assure employees and residents that they could call in to the show without fear of retaliation.

Last August, the city's risk management director resigned and retired amid an investigation into phone calls made from a city phone to two Tampa-area dating services. In that case, more than 500 calls were made to the two dating services and another 63 were made to a home in the Citrus County community of Beverly Hills for about 69 hours of working time. Other calls were made from the city phone on the weekends.

After that incident, Mudd said he wanted to change the city's phone system so officials would not be billed for individual calls in the Tampa Bay area. That way, he said, the calls could not be traced.

At the time, Mudd said the goal was to create better employee relations.

Mudd was quoted as saying: "I want to take away the dollar issues for calls in the Tampa Bay area. You're going to have situations where good employees have sick children at home and need to call from time to time."

No such policy was initiated, and now Mudd has ordered department heads to monitor every call their employees make.

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