Centre County weighs not providing phones to state employees

While Centre County commissioners tabled a motion to remove cellphone service to non-county employees, a unanimous vote will direct staff and the solicitor to review the county electronic communications policy.

Recent events have brought county cellphone usage to the forefront, Vice Chairman Chris Exarchos said, saying he was surprised the county was providing cellphones to state employees such as members of the judiciary.

Chairman Steve Dershem said it’s a very simple concept — if the state feels they should have cellphones, the state should provide them, as the county already provides other necessities for their operation, like computers and internet access.

“I think with the conversation that occurred particularly last week, when we were told essentially ‘hands off,’ ” he said, “I’m uncomfortable having their cellphone records in our office.”

According to county Administrator Tim Boyde, about 10 cellphones are issued to state employees, including judges Thomas Kistler, Bradley Lunsford and Pamela Ruest; senior judges David Grine and Charles Brown, magisterial district judges Allen Sinclair, Tom Jordan and Leslie Dutchcot; and the district court administrator.

Commissioner Michael Pipe asked if the state even would provide phones if the county stopped, and if they could check how state employees would procure a phone if the county one was taken away.

A survey was sent out to other counties in the state, Boyde said, asking how they handle cellphones and state employees. Some, such as Cumberland, York and Chester counties, do provide cellphones for some judges, he said, while others, such as Dauphin, Lebanon and Washington counties, provide no phones for non-county employees.

According to a call from Kistler, he said the judges don’t have an issue with it.

If there is no alternative for a state-run cellphone plan or a particular hardship, Exarchos said, he would be willing to reconsider on a case-by-case basis. But, in general, if the individual was not a county employee subject to the county’s electronic communication policy, the county shouldn’t provide cellphone coverage.

A motion to stop providing cellphone service to non-county employees, giving a transition period until July 1 to make alternate arrangements and return all county phones and SIM cards by that day, was tabled until the next meeting.

Pipe suggested that a document be drafted between the county and the judges indicating that everyone is on board with the new cellphone rules to prevent opening the county up to possible legal issues. Dershem said he had no issue with that, as long as the July 1 deadline was understood.

The board unanimously voted to direct staff to review all existing cellphones in use in the county to verify that use is justified, as well as directing staff and the county solicitor to review the electronic communication policy to verify the policy is up to date.