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Should Louisville Metro Provide Cell Phones To Employees?

louisville city hall

A Louisville Metro councilman is questioning the need for the city to provide cell phones to employees.

A recent internal audit of the city's cell phone program found some 900 phones cost Louisville Metro government about $528,000 annually.

Councilman Kevin Kramer, a District 11 Republican, said providing stipends to employees, rather than phones, could lead to a cheaper, simpler and more streamlined process for cell phone management.

"Most everyone, nowadays, carries with them a cell phone or a tablet or some form of electronic communication," he said. "It is redundant to have them carry a device they own and then also carry a device the city owns."

Kramer voiced his concerns during a meeting of the Metro Council's government accountability, ethics and intergovernmental affairs committee. The seven-member bipartisan committee spent about 20 minutes at their regular Tuesday meeting discussing the findings of the internal audit of the city's cell phone program.

Auditors reviewed a year's worth of cell activity among city employees and found the system lacked oversight and needed policy to protect against abuse, data breaches and unnecessary spending.

The city's internal audit team also uncovered an inconsistent process for collecting and tracking cell phones of terminated employees or decommissioned cell devices. This inadequacy, in some instances, led to cell devices remaining active and in service for months after an employee is terminated, auditors found.

Ken Hillebrand, a director in the city's department of information technology, assured that policies have been enacted and will be enforced to remedy the issues found in the audit. He said policies guiding the supply or removal of cell devices to or from city employees was in place before January ended.

Still, Councilman Robin Engel, chair of the minority Republican caucus, called the findings "unbelievable" and offered praise for Kramer's call to provide stipends to city employees to help cover costs of using personal phones for city business.

"However, the stipend still has to be cut-off, and that's probably easier than cutting off the technology service," he said.

Councilman Pat Mulvihill, a District 10 Democrat and chair of the committee that met Tuesday, said he's got some concerns with nixing the city's program of providing employees with cell phones and adopting a stipend program.

"Are we then mixing personal and governmental business all on one device," he said. "We've got to understand how they would blend and work together."

He said that issue played a prominent role in "presidential politics," alluding to controversy that stemmed from Hillary Clinton's use of a private server to send government emails during her time as Secretary of State.

Kramer, however, dismissed that concern.

"Her problem wasn't using her own phone, it was using her own server," he said. "Big difference."

Kramer said user-integrity would be key to ensuring the success of a program that provides city employees with stipends for using their personal cell phones, rather than city-owned cell phones.

He said stipends for data plans could come at less cost than requiring the city purchase devices and contracts.

Kramer sits on the National League of Cities information technology and communications committee and said "this is not a model that I just came up with."

"There are folks who do it this way," he said.

May Porter, the city's chief audit executive, said "it's a great idea."

Hillebrand, with the department of information technology, said presently there are no plans to make such a transition, but it could be considered in the future.

The department of information technology administers cell phone use and management across nearly every city department, excluding the Louisville Metro Police Department and the Parking Authority of River City.

Cell phones are issued to employees in a number of departments, including Public Works, Emergency Management Services, the Louisville Zoo and the Belle of Louisville, among others, according to a document provided to WFPL through an open records request.

A spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer did not immediately respond to request for comment on Kramer's proposal.

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.