Who ya gonna call?
Mike Marcotte is a very busy man. This was especially obvious on the afternoon of December 9, a day when I was having absolutely no luck getting in touch with him.
Marcotte works for the city of Dallas. Once the virtually anonymous director of the Dallas Water Utilities department, Marcotte had been unexpectedly catapulted last July to the high-profile position of point man on the new sports arena project.
This new job was nothing like shepherding water through pipes--a fairly straightforward task for this tall, even-tempered man. This new job was ramrodding the most expensive single project in the city's history--in record time.
Yes, Marcotte was a very busy man. And busy men do not just sit by their phone, waiting for it to ring--especially when there's a nosy reporter on the other end. Plus, this was holiday time, and Marcotte was out of town a good bit. He was also doing volunteer work one afternoon a week, tutoring inner-city school children.
So on December 9, I was dismayed but not surprised that Marcotte had not returned my morning phone call before heading off to lunch, just before taking the rest of the day off work. Discerning my irritation at ending yet another work week without a number of arena documents that I had been seeking since mid-October, Marcotte's secretary took pity on me and persuaded her boss to call me from his mobile telephone.
"I'm still trying to find answers," Marcotte told me from the comfort of a remote and unknown location. "I don't think we're going to be able to do this today."
Unhappy at the news but relieved just to have gotten this guy on the phone, I made a spontaneous request before hanging up: "What's your mobile phone number?"
There was a long, static-filled pause. Finally, Marcotte responded: "I'm not going to give it to you."
I thought he was kidding. This was, after all, a city-issue telephone--a piece of public property. "I'll give you my office number," Marcotte said, feigning generosity. I asked if he understood that his phone was paid for, and supplied by, the taxpayers of Dallas--many of whom could not afford to buy for themselves what they were bestowing upon 659 total strangers who work for the city.
"Right," he said, acknowledging the point. Still, he wasn't about to give me his mobile phone number.
This brief conversation sparked an odyssey into the amazing world of city hall mobile phones. It was an eye-opening adventure that would reveal the fascinating personal phone habits of our august city manager, mayor, and council.
It was a journey that also revealed, among other things, Mr. Marcotte's mobile telephone number. Which happens to be 533-5307.
Just in case you need it.
Last Wednesday, staring at the long list of mobile phone numbers I had obtained from the city of Dallas, I arbitrarily picked one and dialed it.
"Hello," the man carrying mobile phone number 384-7541 answered, clearly in his car on this cold, rainy morning.
"Hi!" I said. "What's your name?"
There was a pause, then a reluctant answer: "Gary Maxwell." And where are you right now, Gary? I asked cheerfully, after identifying myself as a reporter for the Dallas Observer. "In Dallas," Maxwell said even more reluctantly. "Who are you calling?"
"You!" I responded. "The person assigned to this mobile phone!...So what do you do for the city?"
Maxwell was not amused. "I'm an engineer," he said drily. "This is a mobile phone with the city," he said, in a tone meant to educate me.
Then Maxwell said: "I'd rather not tie up the phone with this--if this is like a survey."
But this was not a survey. This was a newspaper article, I explained, about city mobile phones--who had them, who didn't, and what the haves did with them that was so darn important anyway. But Maxwell didn't care. "Really, I can't tie up my phone for this. Sorry. Thank you." And he hung up.
From this aborted conversation, I got the sense that Maxwell was a very important man who did very pressing things for a living. So I called his office for details and spoke to a highly congenial woman, who told me that Maxwell was a code enforcement specialist who spent seven of eight working hours each day driving to city construction sites, making sure that signal lights are working, barricades are up, and that traffic is generally moving.
When I heard this, I called Maxwell back on a whim to see why the Hampton Road construction project near my house--a messy, two-year-long traffic fiasco for the people of Oak Cliff--showed no sign of being completed any time soon.
Maxwell said he didn't know the details--just the barricades--but he gave me the name of the person who did know. Maxwell sounded dismayed. After all, a perfect stranger now had unfettered access to him---during seven of his eight working hours.
Which, of course, is the beauty of mobile phones. And precisely why no one who has a mobile phone at city hall wants you to have his number. This is not voice mail. There are no receptionists to deflect unimportant callers. The transmission is simply not avoidable unless the person just shuts the phone off.
It's all so terribly personal, so direct. It is in your face, in your ear, and oh so very private.
It's not just the actual phone numbers that are interesting--though having mobile phone numbers for every top banana at city hall is downright delicious.
It's nice, for example, to know that by merely dialing one of those phone numbers on the list, the odds are excellent that if it's early in the morning, after 5 p.m., or on a Saturday, the boyish Mayor Bartlett will personally peep out a greeting on his very own car phone.
But what's particularly fascinating (and in some cases, downright peculiar) are the phone fetishes of these great and powerful leaders we elect and appoint--especially since, in their wildest, worst dreams, they would never expect the media to analyze their calling habits for the great unwashed masses.
Such are the real-life consequences of supping at the public trough--a concept some of our elected officials just don't quite comprehend.
"Councilman McDaniel says that for any local calls that are made on a mobile phone, the councilmembers don't have to divulge that information," Rhonda Hart, assistant to the city manager, mayor, and council told me upon receiving my mid-December request for the detailed monthly billing records of her bosses. "And he wanted a memo to go to the city attorney clarifying that. He felt the information was privileged."
Which, of course, it wasn't. And which, of course, made me want to examine Councilman Craig McDaniel's phone bills all that much more. Just what kind of privileged chitter-chatter was taking place on that freshman councilman's tax-paid mobile phone anyway?
Only the phone bills knew. And we wanted them.
After receiving a formal written request for all city employees' cellular phone numbers, Assistant City Attorney Tracy Pounders declined to release the phone numbers of the 571 police and fire officials who have mobile telephones. Citing an attorney general's written opinion, Pounders claimed that, for security reasons, police and fire phone records can be withheld under the Texas Open Records Act.
But Pounders did authorize release of the phone numbers assigned to 88 other employees and elected officials at city hall. And he later made available more than 2,500 pages of those tiny, envelope-sized Southwestern Bell bills that all phone customers receive.
On those pages was every single call placed during 1994 by councilmembers with city-paid mobile phones as well as City Manager John Ware and First Assistant City Manager Cliff Keheley (who recently resigned under fire). That amounted to thousands of phone calls.
To pet hospitals, pizza joints, and sweethearts. To friends and out-of-town family. To Toys R Us and Montgomery Ward.
While there is, thankfully, city business conducted on these phones, too, it's not as much as you, the taxpayer, might expect, considering that you're paying the tab.
And considering the city's formal written policy on use of mobile phones.
According to city administrative directive 4-8, a six-page missive adopted in 1991, a mobile phone is issued only "to improve productivity or enhance the public safety."
In that vein, city officials are supposed to keep personal calls "to a minimum." They're supposed to pay "for any personal long-distance or other calls resulting in additional charges on a flat-rate phone." And they're supposed to make sure that phone calls are "as direct and succinct as possible."
Well, so much for rules.
As you can imagine, having a tax-paid mobile phone is a much-coveted perk. While councilmembers are automatically entitled to one, the city manager controls who gets the rest--which, outside of the police and fire departments, is strictly limited to 75 employees citywide. When a staffer with a mobile phone leaves the city or moves out of a job that fits the criteria for having such a perk--being on the road a lot, supervising a lot of people, working on 24-hour call--other employees joust mightily for the departing staffer's phone.
There's always a waiting list. And even those who qualify for a phone can remain waiting for years.
But it could be much worse. If Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems didn't give the city a big price break, the cost would be many times that amount.
Southwestern Bell offers a special state and local government rate for the city, one that beats anything an individual, or even most large companies, could hope to get.
For a flat fee of $75 per month per phone, the city gets unlimited airtime for all local calls, no matter what time of the day or night. And thanks to the genius of modern communications technology, the local calling region on a mobile phone is vast--stretching as far east as Canton, as far west as Granbury, as far south as Hillsboro, and as far north as Sherman.
"It really is a real good rate," says Judy Shaw, assistant director of the city's Equipment Communications and Information Services department. "We have other cities that call us all the time to do surveys about mobile phones. And they say Wow! How did you get that rate?"
That fabulous rate, of course, does not include calls made to cities outside the local calling area; those, of course, incur long-distance charges. Those charges, which are billed to the city separately from the $75 flat fee, are in addition to the $579,809 a year the city spends for its phones.
Other charges can hike the price tag further. For example, if someone uses his mobile phone from outside the calling area, it not only racks up long-distance charges, but also "roaming charges"--the fees that other long-distance carriers charge Southwestern Bell customers for transmitting their mobile phone calls.
Roaming charges are much heftier than long-distance charges--and if you don't believe it, just ask Councilwoman Sandra Crenshaw, the council's cellular-phone queen.
On a much smaller dollar scale, there are calls to directory assistance, which incur an extra 60-cent charge per call. And if you allow directory assistance to automatically dial your call for you, it's an additional 15-cent charge. Then there are special features you can get on your mobile phone--such as call waiting, call forwarding, and three-party dialing. There are nominal monthly charges for that, too.
Fortunately, most city employees are hard-pressed to come up with a good reason for making long-distance calls on their mobile phones. Even if they do, they have to justify such calls to their boss or pay the consequences out of their own pocket.
In sum, Judy Shaw says it's difficult to total up all the money spent citywide on long distance, since long-distance bills go to the phone-users' bosses, the various department heads, and Shaw's department leaves it up to them to budget and police.
Too bad the city councilmembers don't have a boss.
Sandra Crenshaw does things with her mobile phone that no one who cares about the sanctity of a taxpayer dollar would ever think of doing.
Most other councilmembers, however, don't pistol-whip the privilege. Sure, they talk incessantly, but what they do doesn't cost the city much beyond the $75-a-month rate.
A few even reimburse the city for some or all of their long-distance and special service charges. Bob Stimson, for example, has made two payments (one right after the Observer asked for his mobile-phone records).
And then there are three councilmembers--bless 'em--who don't have city mobile phones at all. Domingo Garcia, who is a lawyer, contracts privately for his own mobile phone, which he uses for city and personal matters--and he pays for it out of his own pocket. Max Wells does not use a mobile phone, period. Neither does Glenn Box.
"I didn't even know we could get mobile phones," a surprised Box told me last week. "I guess they forgot to tell me." Box, a lawyer with a large downtown firm, has somehow muddled through six years as a city councilman without having a taxpaid mobile phone--or any mobile phone, for that matter--glued to his ear. And he has no regrets.
"To tell you the truth, I probably wouldn't have gotten one even if I'd known it was available," Box says. "For one thing, I don't like people calling me in my car. I need some place where no one can bother me--I'll take the radio or silence. And besides that, I don't think the taxpayers should be paying for something like that."
But, alas, the taxpayers do.
And with that in mind, welcome to the dialing worlds of your manager, mayor, and council. We have no Lady Di-esque transcripts of illicit phone calls between regal folks. No calls to exotic countries. No clandestine use of 900 numbers.
City Manager John Ware has the most interesting telephone bills in all of city hall.
Picture Ware as the media portrays him: Tough, energetic, no B.S.
Now look at John Ware's phone bills as city manager during 1994, his first year in the job. Ware made 1,167 calls last year on his mobile phone. Of those, more than half--689--were to three people.
Ware made 70 mobile-phone calls to his North Dallas home, where he lives with his wife, Shirley, a schoolteacher, and their two sons.
But the 47-year-old manager made the most calls on his mobile phone to a long-time acquaintance, a Fort Worth assistant city manager named Libby Watson. Ware and Watson worked together as assistant city managers for the city of Austin from 1986 until February 1989, when Ware resigned and came to Dallas. Watson resigned seven months later and took a year off work; she took a job in Fort Worth in 1991.
Watson, 45, was easily Ware's number-one mobile phone pal. Our city manager made an impressive 505 calls--43 percent of his mobile-phone total--to her home and office last year.
Second only to Watson in telephone attention during 1994 was Bernadean Steptoe, a 40-year-old Oak Cliff resident who works in the community relations department at WFAA-Channel 8, as liaison to the African-American community. Steptoe, who is councilwoman Barbara Mallory's sister, received 114 calls from Ware; phone records show he began calling her home and office regularly last March.
What is most striking about these calls is their regularity. Mobile-phone records show Ware often began and ended his day with mobile-phone calls to Steptoe, Watson, or both. On many occasions, he hung up with one only to call the other. The morning round typically started around 7 and wrapped up before 9--presumably when he settled in at his city hall office. The evening calls began after normal working hours, about six, and finished up around midnight.
For example, last April 27, a busy Wednesday council day, Ware made his first mobile phone call to Libby Watson at 7:09 a.m. He placed the second call at 7:17 a.m., and a third at 7:45 a.m. The manager made no more mobile phone calls at all until 11:41 p.m. that night--when he called Watson again for five minutes. He called again at 11:46 p.m. for five more minutes.
The following morning, it started all over--calls went out to Watson at 7:14, 7:22, 7:30 and 7:33 a.m. They resumed again at 10:16 p.m., when the two spoke for 15 minutes. Ware placed his next and last call of the day to Watson at 10:33 p.m.
The next day, Friday, records show four morning calls to Watson. Ware then called no one from his mobile phone until after midnight, when he again phoned Watson--at 12:04 a.m. and 12:58 a.m. He made five more calls to her on Saturday, beginning at 9:51 a.m.
The following Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday revealed the same pattern. Steptoe also received calls on those three days, usually within seconds of the calls to Watson.
During those seven days, Ware called his home twice. He called his office three times. The only other call he placed during that time was to an Addison residence--apparently a misdial of Steptoe's phone number at 11:14 on Monday night; he called Steptoe immediately afterward for a 12-minute conversation.
During that seven-day period, Ware made a total of 37 calls to Steptoe and Watson.
After reaching Steptoe at her Channel 8 office, I asked her why the city manager was calling her so often, so early in the day and so late at night. "I think you need to call him," she said. "I have no comment on that."
I also sought comment from Watson, who failed to return messages left at her office and home. One early-morning weekend call to Watson's home was answered by a woman who insisted she was not Watson and hung up the phone shortly after I identified myself.
Ware was nonplussed and cryptic last week when asked how he could have called these two people 619 times. "Well, I was in my car," he said.
Yes, but 619 calls--many in the early morning or close to midnight?
"I'm very comfortable with the calls I make because I roll early in the morning and late at night," he said. "If that was the time, that was the time."
Asked if there was a particular reason he called Watson and Steptoe so often, Ware said: "No more than that I talk to them quite a bit."
Ware, of course, clearly conducts some city business on his mobile phone. But most of those business calls are simply quick check-ins with his office at city hall. Occasionally he'll call a Dallas business executive, such as Texas Commerce Bank chairman John L. Adams, the immediate past president of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce; Ware phoned Adams at his Highland Park home for a minute-and-a-half on the evening of Friday, June 3. But such calls are surprisingly rare.
Ware also uses his phone to make calls to a city department, a councilmember, or one of his assistant city managers. The pattern of mostly personal phone use remained consistent, even during the tumultuous days last May, when city officials were hammering out details of the municipal budget and business leaders were conducting intensive study of a downtown sports arena.
First Assistant City Manager Cliff Keheley was not a big mobile phone user--he made 186 calls in all of 1994. But when he was on the phone, he was usually taking care of city business.
No frills for this guy, no idle chitter-chatter--save short calls to his wife, usually in the evenings, most likely on his way home from work. He called his son, too, a college student working last summer as a clerk for a local law firm.
But most of the remaining calls were pure business. In fact, it was Keheley, not Ware, who was calling city department heads and assistant city managers and councilmembers during budget time last year.
And in an odd flashback to the episode that eventually ended Keheley's public-service career, Keheley's mobile phone records reveal contact with those working on a secret $50,000 arena study.
At 11:05 a.m. on May 19, Keheley called Austin Industries CEO Bill Solomon, whose consulting subsidiary was working on the secret study, and spoke to him briefly.
At 2:03 p.m. that day, he called John Crawford, chairman of the business group that was publicly studying the prospects for a new arena.
Ware has said that he ordered Keheley to shut down the secret study on May 19, after catching wind of it from Crawford.
At first blush, the mayor's mobile phone records are just plain weird.
Why in the world does the mayor of America's eighth-largest city call the city's convention center on an almost daily basis--218 times in 1994? Is it his passionate concern for the caliber of conventions being booked? Is he checking on the menu for the daily catered luncheons, in hopes of grabbing a free meal? And then there's that unlisted North Dallas phone number that Bartlett called regularly--501 times last year.
Actually, though, it's not really Bartlett making those calls. It's his two drivers--both sworn police officers who have attended U.S. Secret Service seminars.
When Bartlett is out of his city-supplied Chevrolet Caprice, cutting all those ribbons and eating all those breakfasts, his drivers, naturally bored out of their minds, are whiling away the time on one of the mayor's two mobile phones. (Though the drivers' local calls don't cost any extra--remember, the fee is a flat $75 per line--it's unclear why the mayor needs a second phone, since Bartlett and his drivers use it only about once a day.)
The vast majority of the 719 calls to the convention center and that unlisted North Dallas phone number were actually made by officer Larry Conner, one of the mayor's drivers.
Conner's wife works at the convention center. Conner's home is the one with the unlisted phone number. The records surely then prove that there is nobody on a city mobile phone today as smitten with his spouse as officer Conner.
As he rather shyly explains it, "we're newlyweds," and she works days while he works mainly nights. (Maybe with the change of mayor in June we can get this guy home more.)
Who, then, does Bartlett call on his mobile phone?
Well, not that many people--which is surprising considering that, without question, Bartlett is the most deserving recipient of a city-paid mobile phone. As the official goodwill ambassador for the city, Bartlett spends up to 17 hours a day, six to seven days a week, criss-crossing Dallas, making appearances. Eternally energetic, he seems to show up for every tea, breakfast, fish-fry, radio talk-show, mall gathering, ribbon-cutting, and church social in the Metroplex.
But unlike some of his council colleagues--none of whom subject themselves to the amount of pomp and circumstance that Bartlett chooses to endure--the mayor does not chatter idly on his mobile phone at all hours of the day and night.
He does call home quite a bit--140 times last year, or twice as often as the city manager. He bugged his loyal administrative assistant Kristi Sherrill at home 33 times. But he only occasionally calls councilmembers, lending credence to the council's constant complaint that Bartlett isn't solicitous enough of them.
But mostly, Bartlett calls his long-time political advisors and mentors--the informal kitchen cabinet that he's had with him for years.
Wealthy oilman-developer Ray Hunt's four lieutenants, key players in Dallas civic affairs, are well-represented in Bartlett's mobile phone records. Bartlett placed 47 calls last year to John Scovell, Walt Humann, Dan Petty and, most of all, Jim Oberwetter, who chaired Bartlett's mayoral campaign.
Bartlett made 70 calls to his top political advisor, Mike Lindley, a consultant to him since 1977, who managed his 1991 mayoral campaign. Next on the mayor's mobile-phone popularity list was Jeanne Johnson, with 43 calls; she's worked as a political consultant to him for a decade. "We just talk through issues with him," explained Lindley. "We're the long-time political advisors."
Chamber of Commerce executives received a mere 24 calls.
And, in perhaps the only truly startling revelation, Bartlett called Meridian Products, the far North Dallas factory he owns--the source of his livelihood, the bread and butter for his table--only 27 times last year.
No wonder his wife works.
This councilwoman has no shame.
Councilwoman Sandra Crenshaw seems to spend every free moment in her day on her mobile phone, racking up as many as 736 calls a month--an average of 25 a day, and a third as many calls as Mayor Bartlett and his two drivers make in a year.
Many of the calls are apparently personal. There are many long, leisurely calls, for example, to people like former Grand Prairie councilman Ed Hemphill, an ex-boyfriend of Crenshaw who she says has remained a close friend.
"I take the phone with me wherever I go," she says. "Even if I'm in meetings."
She's not kidding. When I called her last Friday at 8 p.m. on her mobile phone to discuss her phone habits, Crenshaw was not at home. She was at a friend's house, juicing up her city mobile phone with a battery pack. The phone was left on, mind you, so that she could receive calls. For the 30 minutes that we talked, she sat inches away from the phone, which she left cradled in its battery charger, and literally screamed into the phone.
"I don't think anybody else is on the phone as much as I am. You take a CPA, for instance," she screamed, referring to councilman Bob Stimson. "Most of his activity is in an office--versus the activities that I'm involved in. I do more community meetings, more council meetings. And my district is 69 square miles and 17 miles long so I probably do more mileage than most councilmembers."
Yes, most of this mobile-phone activity is included in the $75 flat rate. And since Crenshaw's life revolves around city hall--she's all but given up her former livelihood as a political consultant and is without a steady income--she has the time to sit on her mobile phone day in and day out, chatting away. Her phone bills from one year rank up there with the thickest of the bunch--372 pages.
Clearly, no one enjoys the mobile-phone perk more than Sandra Crenshaw.
But there are costs to her phone obsession.
First, she makes a habit of calling directory assistance on a regular basis, costing taxpayers an extra 60 cents a clip. Others, such as Donna Blumer, never do it. Councilwoman Donna Halstead does it, but she scrupulously reimburses the city. Crenshaw calls directory assistance up to 22 times a month, then often has the number automatically dialed--instead of doing it herself--racking up an extra charge of 15 cents. This habit adds up to relative peanuts, but it's a wastefulness that Crenshaw would surely avoid if footing the bill herself.
Where Crenshaw really costs taxpayers money is with her habit of taking her phone with her when she goes on city-paid trips out of town--and she goes on them often. Councilmembers say Crenshaw is the master of the political junket. A free trip? A taxpaid excursion? She's outta here--with her mobile phone.
Most councilmembers--Bob Stimson and Barbara Mallory are notable exceptions--never take their mobile phones with them on trips.
"It saves me a quarter," Crenshaw explained, searching for an example that did not cost the city any money. "When I come back from out of town, I can call someone to come pick me up at the airport."
In fact, Crenshaw's out-of-town phone use does cost the city money.
Last year, Crenshaw took her Dallas mobile phone with her to New York, Baltimore, Washington, Austin, Killeen, Hillsboro, Athens, Shreveport, New Orleans, Henderson, and Tyler.
"I probably do a lot more travel than other councilmembers for personal development," Crenshaw says, admitting that this personal development usually comes on the taxpayers' dime. "I go to workshops, conferences, and conventions--to learn about different issues."
On those trips, she racked up $90.70 in long-distance charges last year. But she also accumulated $593.81 in roaming charges. (That's what out-of-town mobile-phone carriers charged Crenshaw for the privilege of handling her calls. In New York City, for example, the mobile carrier charges 75 cents a minute to carry an out-of-towner's mobile call.)
Councilman Don Hicks remembers clearly the day he learned that the city of Dallas offers mobile phones to councilmembers. He was standing on a curb last June in Harlem in New York City, where he and Crenshaw had gone on a city-paid economic development trip to survey street festivals in two big Eastern cities. As he stood admiring the scenery, he couldn't help but notice his fellow councilmember yakking away on her mobile telephone.
"I was saying, 'Hey, that looks pretty good,'" Hicks recalls. "'Don't they charge you an arm and a leg for that?' And she said, 'Well, it's a flat fee.'"
Well, not in New York. Which would seem pretty obvious to most people, including Crenshaw, who would have seen roaming charges incurred on her January trip to Austin--if she had reviewed her previous bills to look for reimbursable charges. Anyway, the mobile phone didn't look quite so good to Hicks a moment later.
"She almost got hit by a car using that mobile phone," Hicks recalls. "People were just staring at her. And a guy on a bike--it was so vivid--came back to us and told us we were going the wrong way. He'd overheard her conversation on the phone."
When Crenshaw returned from New York and got her June bill, she had a fit when she saw the $313.88 in roaming charges. At first she tried to get Southwestern Bell to eat the charges, claiming that she'd never been briefed on the roaming costs.
They didn't go for it.
Memos show that Crenshaw asked assistant city manager Mary Suhm to calculate the cost of every non-city hall call she made on her trip. When she got the total, Crenshaw wrote a check to the city on her campaign account to cover it: $197.35, records show. "That was really a shock to me," Crenshaw says. "Those darn roaming charges really added up."
The councilwoman couldn't have been too shook up--because she continued to take her mobile phone with her on trips out of town. And she continued to use it. And she never again wrote a check to reimburse the city.
For example, in September Crenshaw racked up $161.77 in roaming charges on trips that took her to seven cities. Of the 85 calls she made, 35 were to Hemphill and his mother; in contrast, four went to Dallas city hall.
Pay up? No. Instead, she did what all the councilmembers who don't reimburse the city for their mobile phones do--she charges it to her $12,000-a-year city office account, which is the amount of tax dollars each councilmember is given to cover various town hall, mobile phone, mailing, and other official expenses each year.
According to status reports given to city councilmembers regularly on those accounts, Crenshaw has already used up just about all of her $12,000, just halfway through the fiscal year.
"I don't know how you spend that much money in six months," says councilman Glenn Box, with something short of admiration in his voice. "I've had a few town hall meetings, printed up some stationery--but that's only about $2,000. How do you spend $12,000?"
Well, we know partly how.
Paul Fielding has a voice-mail fetish. Pure and simple.
"I need to check and see if someone's trying to get a hold of me," he says sheepishly.
Yes, but how many people spend $5.95 each month (in taxpayers' money) on a special voice mailbox for their mobile telephone? And then check it--along with regular check-ins with the home machine, an office secretary, and a city hall secretary--11 times a day, up to three times an hour?
The taxpayers also spend an additional $5.95 a month providing Fielding with what is called a "custom calling package"--including call-waiting, call-forwarding, and three-party conference-call capability. Fielding is the only councilmember to have this particular feature on his mobile phone.
He does not make long-distance calls, but he does use directory assistance eight to 15 times a month. And he calls nice clothing stores occasionally.
But, for the most part, he calls two places over and over: his North Dallas business office at Mason Rich Co., an investment firm, and his city hall council office.
Pat Cotton, Fielding's political consultant and former DART board appointee, comes in a solid third. His Mason Rich business partner's home comes in fourth. "It's an unlisted number, and if you print it he'll kill you," Fielding laughs. After that, some old buddies from high school and college make the list. And so do his parents.
Don Hicks is downright chatty--about how he uses his mobile phone.
After discovering, on that New York street corner with Sandra Crenshaw, that the city supplies some of his colleagues with free mobile phones, Hicks inquired about the possibility of getting a subsidy for all the council-related calls he was making on his personal mobile phone.
His specific proposal, he says, was to mark his city calls on his private mobile-phone bill and simply submit it to the city for reimbursement. Hicks figured that would cost taxpayers about $50 a month.
But Assistant City Manager Ted Benavides didn't like that idea, Hicks recalls. "He said it would just be easier, as far as the paperwork went, to get a city mobile phone for the flat rate of $75. But, personally, I think it's stupid because it would save a couple of dollars to do it my way."
Like Fielding, Hicks is predictable in his mobile phone habits. Hicks called his law office the most--145 times last year. Then he called an outfit called Focus Communications 118 times.
Hicks explained that he, Pro-Line hair products titan Comer Cottrell, and political running buddy Royce West, a state senator, are in the filmmaking business together.
Last September, they arranged for a local production company to film the entire 114th National Baptist Convention in New Orleans, and today they offer it for sale in a five-tape set for $60. Focus Communications, a small minority-owned Dallas public-relations firm, takes the phone orders for the tapes.
It just goes to show that you can learn something new about a person every single day--especially when you have their telephone records.
Among other dialing destinations, Hicks called his home (just 57 times last year; his wife works with him at their law firm). He also calls three local politicians often, to discuss issues, politics, local goings-on: state senator West and Dallas County Justices of the Peace Thomas Jones and Charles Rose.
Hicks allows the taxpayers to pay for a Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems service called "Mr. Rescue," which, for a monthly charge of $1.95, promises to send a tow truck if his car breaks down.
Barbara Mallory is like mayoral driver Larry Conners; she's in love.
Last year, she spent most of her time on her mobile phone talking to her honey, her Park and Recreation Board appointee Dwaine Caraway. The two married in December.
Between his Allen Street apartment and his Stemmons Freeway office, Mallory called Caraway 708 times. Fellow councilmembers say Mallory won't make a political decision without calling for his advice.
"As far as we're concerned, she just keeps the chair warm for the real councilperson, Dwaine Caraway," one councilmember says.
The phone records thus buttress a widely held impression. Caraway has been openly telling people for more than a year that he is managing Mallory's affairs, and leaders in the African-American community typically go through Caraway to get an appointment with Mallory.
Mallory also called her city council office 260 times. Her sister, John Ware's phone friend Bernadean Steptoe, was third in line. Mallory called Steptoe 173 times last year, at both her Channel 8 office and her DeSoto home.
Mallory is also one of the few councilmembers to take her phone on out-of-town trips. She has never reimbursed the city for any part of her roaming and long-distance charges, $90 in all, even though records show some of the calls were personal.
Donna Blumer--because she rarely uses her phone--receives a reduced monthly flat rate on her phone of $13.
Her phone use is pretty much limited to calling her husband to advise him that she's on her way home from city hall. Says Blumer: "The only reason I got the phone was because when I was first elected to the council I was concerned about all the stories about the council meetings running until two in the morning. I really wanted the capability of calling 911 if I needed it on the way home. But we really haven't had those late meetings so I rarely use the phone."
Bob Stimson uses his mobile phone perk a lot; he makes about 150 to 200 calls per month. He likes calling directory assistance. He racked up $40 in roaming charges in December 1993, after taking his mobile phone to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. While there, he made, in addition to calls back to his council office, a number of local calls (to Southwest Airlines, for example), for which it would have been cheaper to throw a quarter into a pay phone.
Stimson did write one reimbursement check to the city in March 1994 for $7.77 in long-distance charges. He didn't write a check again until January 1995, four days after I requested his mobile phone records. This time the check was for $48.17--for personal calls he made on trips during January, April, and November 1994. That includes the New Mexico trip plus subsequent trips to Houston, Austin, and Killeen.
If Stimson wins the Better Late Than Never Award, he also wins the Heckuva Nice Guy Award. The number-one recipient of mobile phone calls from Stimson last year--317 of them--was a former Oak Cliff neighbor of his named Agnes Bates. A sweet 83-year-old World War II widow who never remarried, Ms. Bates now lives alone and in failing health in an apartment house in Oak Cliff. "Bob's a fine person," she told me. "He calls me every morning and every night from the car to check on me. He worries about me so."
Charlotte Mayes has the habit of calling directory assistance for numbers readily available for free in the phone book--those of places such as Toys 'R Us, Frigidaire repair service, Mont-gomery Ward, Best Buy, and the International House of Pancakes. She also has a habit of mashing the button that automatically dials the number for a small extra charge. She particularly loves to call IHOP and the Owens Country Sausage restaurant in Mesquite--perhaps their breakfast sausage changes daily.
Larry Duncan's mobile-phone use is as low-key as you would expect from the populist from Pleasant Grove. He doesn't make a lot of calls. He does not call directory assistance. He mainly calls his council office and his home, where he bases his private business. Duncan uses his mobile phone to call constituents (good to see somebody does). And he also regularly calls Cliff's Printing, which does his council mailings, district newsletters, and stationery.
He also likes Pizza Hut.
Donna Halstead is the reimburser. She reimburses the city for all her charges, including the $75 flat fee, in checks issued by her well-known campaign chairman, Ray Hunt lieutenant Dan Petty.
It is good that Halstead pays her full mobile phone bill each month because it would certainly raise the hackles of some of her conservative North Dallas constituents if she didn't. Of the councilmembers, her bill is easily the most amusing to review, with calls to Bifano Furs, the NorthPark Neiman Marcus, the Royal Oaks Country Club, and Chiarelli's hair salon.
Halstead's mobile phone only proves what her fellow councilmembers have long said about her--that she's a faithful vote for Ray Hunt and his varied interests, such as a new sports arena. It's no accident that Petty is her campaign chairman. She also called Petty 44 times at his office and home.
More intriguing, however, is Halstead's deep and abiding phone connection with public-relations guru Lisa LeMaster. LeMaster is the spin doctor extraordinaire, who Ray Hunt himself favors to handle touchy matters, such as the Pinnacle Park auto racetrack. Halstead called LeMaster on her mobile phone 96 times last year.
Halstead's only other telling phone connections are to three major Republican figures from her area of Lake Highlands, from whom she seeks frequent counsel: Dallas County Judge Lee Jackson, former Dallas city councilman Dean Vanderbilt, and 101st State District Court Judge Jay Patterson. Halstead used her mobile phone to dial the three men 218 times last year.
Finally, Halstead adores directory assistance--more than any other councilmember. She let operators do the walking 116 times last year.
For all his squeamishness about the release of his phone bills, Craig McDaniel's mobile-phone bills are distinctly unrevealing.
His favorite numbers are those of his council office (where, like Sandra Crenshaw and Chris Luna, he is based full-time), his partner and roommate Ron Ruggless, and fellow councilmember Luna--McDaniel's political mentor and the man most likely to influence his vote.
Chris Luna, like Halstead, reimburses the taxpayers for his entire mobile phone bill. Like Halstead, he pays for it out of his campaign account. In fact, it was only last July that Luna even began using a city phone. Before that, he had his own mobile phone, which cost him about $200 a month; he paid for it with personal and campaign funds.
"I wish I could say it was some great altruistic reason that I don't have the taxpayers paying for my mobile phone bill, but it's just plain old laziness because I don't want to have to sit down and separate all the city calls from the personal ones," Luna told me last week, speaking on his mobile phone.
Well, you don't have to do that, councilman. It's a $75 flat rate for all your local calls--only personal long-distance calls and special charges require reimbursement. "Oh," he said, clearly surprised. "I had to assume that whatever the percentage of personal, I would have to reimburse the city--and that's too much work."
Luna says he never wanted a car phone at all until a free one and a month's airtime were included in the purchase of his last car. Now, Luna says, he's hooked. He uses it to return dozens of messages a day. (Luna's phone bills also prove unequivocally that he is the council's media darling--there are dozens of calls to reporters. But Luna swears he's only returning calls, not offering juicy tips.)
Luna says only four people have his mobile number--and his secretary at city hall isn't one of them. She let him have an earful last week when, in a frenzy to locate him, she realized she wasn't one of the privileged few.
So, then, what would you think about letting several hundred thousand people have your number, Mr. Luna?
That's all right. We'll let it go this time.
Observer editorial assistant DeJannette Neugent provided research assistance for this story.
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