Who ya gonna call?

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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
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.

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