One in every 43 state employees has a mobile telephone, and the $15,000-a-month cost is making some state officials sit up and listen.
"We have 300 mobile telephones?" questioned Bud Scruggs, chief of staff to Gov. Norm Bangerter, when informed of the latest count. "We're going to have a complete review to see if they are cost efficient, if those who have them really need them."Scruggs himself has a state-owned mobile phone, albeit an older model inherited from his predecessor. Bangerter doesn't carry a mobile phone himself, said Scruggs. "The governor doesn't want to be bugged by one." Anyway, the personal security men who accompany the governor have mobile phones and access to the state's microwave emergency telecommunications system as well.
Mobile telephones have changed the face of business and government. House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, a real estate manager who has a personal mobile telephone himself, banned the contraptions from the House floor last session, tired of the ringing interfering with debate. But he couldn't escape completely. Moody answered his regular telephone located on the speaker's rostrum and heard a lobbyist say, "Look up in the gallery." The lobbyist waved at Moody as he lobbied him on an issue using a mobile telephone.
Mobile-phone conversations are routine during legislative committee meetings. A mobile phone rang in one crowded Senate caucus, leaving half a dozen lobbyists and state officials searching their pockets to see if it was their phone while disgruntled senators, their discussion disturbed, look on.
Any state employee can get a mobile telephone as long as his department director agrees and there's money in the budget, says Steven Grimshaw, director of the state Division of Information Technology Services. "It's not our place to overrule a department director," said Grimshaw. Many department directors themselves have mobile telephones.
"The older-model (mobile) telephones used to cost more than $3,000. But I carry a newer mobile phone, and my model cost just $400. The cost has really come down in recent years," says Grimshaw. His division, which has just over 200 employees, has 10 mobile telephones.
"I've found that it has made me and my employees much more productive," said Grimshaw. "I can answer critical questions immediately, stay in touch and not waste time."
Right after the San Francisco earthquake of several years ago, the mobile telephone system stayed working while the regular telephone system was down for two hours because everyone was trying to use it. "Mobile phones have great benefit in such emergencies," says Grimshaw. And numerous state officials would be needed in such emergencies, he added.
The state contracts with Cellular One for mobile service. The state pays a flat fee for each minute of conversation over a mobile telephone. The monthly bill runs between $14,000 and $15,000. The state will spend just over $1 million on all telecommunications, including its microwave system, this year.
"Certainly there are good reasons for some state managers to have the phones," said Scruggs. "But 300 seems a bit high. We'll review it. And we'll make sure that departments aren't buying the new, high-cost Dick Tracy-type phones, either."
The Legislature will look into the matter, also. After seeing state officials grabbing their mobile phones during committee hearings and in back halls during the last session, legislative leaders asked the Interim Appropriations Committee to look into mobile telephone use in the executive branch of government.