The Budget and Finance Committee unanimously approved a recommendation to pay aldermen $40 a month toward the data plan on a smart phone, arguing that it would make them more accessible to the city and constituents.
To avoid directly voting to pay themselves more, committee members approved a recommendation by City Attorney Alan Kesner to begin paying the stipend to the eight aldermen voted into office April 1, while the other eight aldermen would have to wait until after the 2016 election.
When fully implemented, the service will cost the city $7,680 a year. For those aldermen without smart phones, or not wishing to use their personal phone for city business, the recommendation includes an option to issue them a city-owned phone.
Information on city business transmitted by any phone — stipend or not — would be subject to open records law, Kesner said.
The cell phone stipends still await approval by the Common Council.
This is the second high-tech initiative the city has pursued for Common Council members, after the October 2012 purchase of iPads for use by council members. The iPads, at $390 each, amounted to a one-time cost of $6,240 and were justified by the amount of paper and copying time saved in preparing meeting packets. The iPads require a Wi-Fi environment to function over the Internet.
City Administrator James Archambo said the phone program was in place for other city employees whose availability was deemed necessary. He likened it to the pagers of years ago.
Archambo and committee members said staying in touch by email and being able to take and email pictures of, for example, potholes to be fixed, were examples of the advantages of the program.
Alderman Tim Hansen said his work is not in a Wi-Fi environment, and a smart phone would make it easier to stay in touch. He said that maybe in the future, the city could consider a data plan for the iPads, which he saw as even more useful.
Alderman John Dubinski displayed what he called his "dumb phone."
"I don't have a smart phone, so what I cannot do with this, if I want to go out as an alderman to investigate a complaint from a citizen, I can't take pictures and send them out to city staff, say forestry, the street department, some of the alders," he said. "I can't do that with this device. I can take pictures with my iPad, but then I have to go home, and then connect to my home connection, my home network, and then I can send the stuff out."
Better technology would make the council members more effective, Dubinski said.
An increase in pay
Archambo said the responsibilities of the cell phone program went two ways. "What that enables is we have to be able to contact you, and here's a device by which we assure that you have to be available."
The plan supported by the committee was the second-most-expensive recommended by staff. The highest level plan, providing more data space, would have been $50 a month.
Kesner said the program would amount to an increase in pretax gross income for the members of the council, raising their pay from $4,200 to $4,680 a year.
Ewerdt noted that even outgoing council members, like himself and Alderman Peter Donegan, who are not standing for re-election and wouldn't benefit, supported the plan.
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