WILKES-BARRE – A Luzerne County councilman said he intends to seek cellphone call records of Wilkes-Barre Councilman Bill Barrett to determine if he has used his city cellphone to conduct city business while working at Luzerne County Community College, where he's employed as security director.
Councilman Stephen A. Urban, a city resident, said he wants to know the number of minutes Barrett was on his cellphone during his working hours at LCCC and also review the phone numbers of the calls made and received to determine how many were personal or city business.
Urban said he became suspicious of Barrett's usage based on a Times Leader story published Sunday that showed Barrett used 5,447 minutes from January to September, an average of 605 minutes per month. That's significantly more than three other council members with city phones, who used 491 to 1,172 minutes over the nine months.
Five thousand minutes is a lot of time on the phone. He has a full-time job. How much of that phone use was while he was at LCCC? Urban said. He's paid by the community college to work there. He is not being paid by the community college to do city business.
Barrett, who does not have a personal cellphone, said he has primarily used his phone to call city officials and constituents, but acknowledged he has made personal calls as well.
Barrett said he never offered to reimburse the city for his personal calls because they were made within a pool of minutes that were included with his plan, which cost about $50 per month. He said he told the city if he ever exceeded his minutes he would pay for them, but that never occurred. Phone records confirm that.
The fee was the same whether or not someone called me personally or I made a call otherwise, he said
As for calls he made or received while at LCCC, Barrett said he normally returns calls during his lunch hour or breaks. He will occasionally answer a call at other times, but said he spends a minimal amount of time on those calls.
I do everything I can to minimize any effect on my employment at the college, Barrett said. Everyone knows I have a position with the city and I do everything I can to not have it interfere with what I do here.
Urban said he plans to file a Right-to-Know request with the city to obtain Barrett's call logs.
He likely will face a challenge getting a full listing of numbers called, however, said Melissa Melewsky, an attorney with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association. The Times Leader also has filed a Write-to-Know request for Barrett's calls.
Melewsky said the state Office of Open Records has held that official numbers, such as calls made to another public official or business, are public record.
Any calls made to a personal number, however, such as the user's home phone or the phone of another citizen, are private and can be redacted, she said.
Asked if he would voluntarily release his phone logs, Barrett declined, saying he believed Urban was on a political witch hunt. He noted Urban's wife, Linda Urban, a frequent council critic, ran against him in the last election.
If they find the least, littlest thing, they're going to make an issue out of it. I'm not about to release my phone records to the world, he said.
It's not clear how much longer Barrett or the other council members with city phones – Tony George, Maureen Lavelle and George Brown – will have the devices.
Drew McLaughlin, administrative coordinator, said the city plans to ask council members to give up the phones. George, Lavelle and Brown have said they would. Barrett said he intends to keep his phone and begin paying the bill himself.