New Haven aldermen will soon be able to communicate more easily with their constituents using city-funded cellphones, courtesy of a new program approved by the Board of Aldermen this week.
The new policy, which was approved 24-2, gives aldermen the choice of using funds allotted for bulk mailings in last year’s budget on cell phones instead. The decision was made after a survey showed that several aldermen would prefer cell phones to bulk mailings. As the policy reflects a reallocation of funds as opposed to a new expenditure, taxpayers will not incur any additional financial burden.
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A preliminary form of the policy was passed by the Board in early September but had to be submitted to the aldermanic Finance Committee in order to add the cell phone clause to the wording of the current budget. Monday’s vote officially confirmed the language adjustments made by the committee.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01, an early proponent of the plan, said the main motivation behind the proposal was to allow aldermen to return constituent calls in a more timely manner.
“Aldermen are very busy, and most of us work full-time jobs,” Chen said. “When we get home, sometimes it’s too late to return phone calls. This plan will facilitate them getting a response from us in a reasonable time, and it allows the constituents to have better access to us.”
Although Ward 7 Alderwoman Bitsie Clark said she will not opt to using a city cell phone in lieu of receiving bulk mailing funding, she said she still supported the measure.
“Aldermen are putting in huge amounts of their own money and time,” she said. “The least we could do is get some help from the city to do a decent kind of communication with their constituents.”
Following the city’s existing policies for employee phones in other offices, the phones are to be used for constituent communication only, and the records of calls on the phones could be made available to the public, Clark said.
“This is a number that would be called by constituents,” Clark said. “It isn’t that the city is paying for people to call their boyfriends and mothers.”
Ward 29 Alderman and Board President Carl Goldfield also said the calls need to be part of the public record.
“You want to make sure you’re using the phone for its intended purpose, which is to communicate with your constituents and do city business,” Goldfield said. “There’s nothing private about it — people should know what you’re doing.”
But Ward 3 Alderwoman Jackie James, who voted against the proposal, said the public nature of the records would affect her communication with constituents.
“My conversations with my constituents [are] personal, and I want to keep it as that,” James said. “I want them to have that sense of privacy.”
Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah voted for the proposal, but he said that the new cell phones could create new challenges for aldermen. If aldermen are questioned about their phone records, it may be difficult or tedious to prove they were talking to a constituent, he said.
Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05, whose ward includes much of the Yale campus, said he supported the proposal because it increased flexibility for aldermen while costing the city essentially nothing.
“I think the proposal is perfectly reasonable,” Shalek said. “It allows aldermen to choose the methods of communication for them and their constituents. I supported it because it didn’t represent any increase in expense over what was currently allocated to aldermanic communications.”
Chen said new cell phone funding will cost about $40 per month for each alderman who opts into the program.