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Personal use of city-owned phones by Manchester police gets scrutiny

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 16. 2013 1:32PM

MANCHESTER — Police officers have reimbursed the city treasury more than $4,000 over the past three years for personal use of department-issued cellular telephones, an aldermanic committee was told.

But information about all calls made by city employees on city-owned phones is not always a public record, according to an opinion from the city's law department.

The Administration and Information Systems Committee of the Board of Mayor and Alderman will consider the reports from Police Chief David Mara and assistant city solicitor Thomas Arnold III at a meeting this afternoon.

The issue of private use of publicly-paid phones arose during the trial of a Manchester police officer who was acquitted of charges that he assaulted his estranged wife. During his trial, the officer admitted communicating with other women on his city cell phone but said it was not against departmental rules.

That led to Alderman-at-Large Joe Kelley Levasseur asking for information about private use of cell phones by city officers.

Levasseur said Monday he doesn't like the idea of city workers having city-paid cellular telephone service and wanted evidence that the city is being reimbursed for private use.

"I just wanted to make sure there was an accounting for it," Levasseur said "We wanted them to get rid of them having cell phones altogether. I don't want to see any employees have cell phones paid for by the government whatsoever.

The report provided by police said that officers repaid $1,629.93 for personal cell phone use during the 2011 fiscal year; $1,293.43 in 2012 and $627.43 during the first part of 2013. Final bills had not been calculated for 2013 at the time the report was prepared.

City Solicitor Thomas Arnold III advised aldermen in a memo last week that cell phone bills are public records, but not everything appearing in the bills can be released.

Arnold said billing records of detectives can't be released "if disclosure would impair the investigation or prosecution of a criminal case."

"A billing record of a telephone call by a detective in the course of an investigation may be exempt from disclosure if disclosure would impair the investigation or prosecution,"Arnold said. "A call by a health department employee ... may be exempt as an invasion of privacy."

Arnold advised aldermen that whether records of any particular call must be released depends on the facts surrounding the call.

But he said instances in which call details are not public records "should be fairly limited."

The administration committee will also consider complaints from a city resident that Manchester's dog fouling ordinance is virtually unenforceable because it effectively requires that a dog must be caught in the act .

Steven Stefanik of South Hall Street spoke during a public participation session earlier this month and distributed photographs of fouled streets and lawns.

He pointed to the language of the city ordinance as being a big part of the issue.

The ordinance says a person in control of a dog in public must carry an "article or means" to clean up after a dog, or to "remove and dispose" of dog feces.

But the ordinance says it can be no enforcement unless a violation "occurs in the presence of a law enforcement officer," which limits the ability of police or animal control officers to issue tickets after the deed is done.

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