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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) – We discovered a disturbing loophole this week in New Hanover County policy that’s allowing County Commissioners to conduct county business in secret on their county cell phone with no accountability.

Right now, any call a commissioner makes on his office land-line, or any email sent from the county server, are considered public documents. The time the phone call was made and the number that was called, along with the contents of the emails, can be accessed by the media or anyone who’s interested.

But when we recently requested the county to provide us the cell phone records and text messages from one commissioner’s phone, we were told the documents were not available.

The county buys a cell phone for any commissioner that wants one and then gives them a $75 stipend to help pay their bills, according to Mark Boyer, county spokesman. The phone is put in the commissioner’s name and the bill goes to their home or office address.

However, according to County Attorney Wanda Copely, the phones were purchased so commissioners would “be able to get texts, emails, etc.” We take that to mean the county bought the phones so commissioners could conduct county business on them.

According to our station attorney, the county MUST keep records of any correspondence made by any county commissioner. But County Manager Bruce Shell admits that they are not keeping records on the cell phones.

Which means that a county commissioner can call, text or email anyone regarding county business and there would be no record of their conversation. No transparency, no accountability, no evidence.

County Commission Chairman Jonathan Barfield says he’s all for transparency, but feels like making the cell phone records public goes too far. He says in his instance, he uses his phone for both county and personal business and thinks it would be hard to differentiate between what’s personal and what’s official. He also said that he didn’t like the idea of carrying one cell phone for county business because he doesn’t have enough room on his belt for two phones.

Comment on this Story

  • Guest

    look at Barfields website for his realty company. his contact info is 233-8780 which is the same number as the county provided cell phone. Does he use part of his travel allowance for his business too?

  • guest

    Um, I’m SURE he’s reimbursing the county for the pro-rata bill share of county phone calls vs. business/personal calls. NOT.

  • Guesting Game

    If what you are saying about Barfield is true, his realty company contact number being the same as the county provided number, then I think there’s a news story there. It seems that would be illegal, not to mention the obvious; unethical. I hope someone (hint hint) looks into this. By the way, my husband works for the government and my boss works in private industry, they both have to carry 2 cell phones; one personal, and one business. It is not uncommon. If Barfield’s belt isn’t large enough for 2 cell phones, he could always put one in his pocket or carry a man bag.

  • Guest

    how much you want to bet he writes off his cell phone as a business expense on his taxes!!! That should be looked into also.

  • Guest-of-the-day

    they are skirting the law with a feeble excuse about not wanting their private use of public property shared with the public. Obviously they could make the same claim about their emails and land line phone use. Virtually corporate policies these days dictate that all use of corporate property is not privy to privacy usage. If the county has a different policy, they are the only ones. What? “They’re starving? Let them eat cake” said commisioner Barfield…

  • Common…I damn near spewed coffee on my monitor. THAT comment was a hoot!

  • Commonsensenotcommontoday

    Who is he kidding, beside himself?

    Barfield, we’ve all seen your waist. You could carry two phones and a fax machine on your belt. They probably have to search out really lonnnnggggg cows to even make a belt for you.

  • Guest28429

    I am sure you had a hoot writing your comment. However, Mr. Barfield’s waistline has nothing to do with the issue. The issues of our county will be better served when personal attacks are eliminated.

  • Guest

    I have had business and personal cell phones for years and find it not at all difficult to carry two devices or manage their use. If the taxpayers are funding these phones, their use should be accounted for to those who are paying the bills. If any of the commissioners want to meet “off line”, go to each others’ homes, go to lunch somewhere… just don’t do it at taxpayers’ expense.

  • Guest10

    New Hanover County needs to correct this ASAP! Thanks again WWAY and please keep everyone informed as to when and how this error is resolved.

  • Jonathan Barfield

    Now that I understand the issue, I have no problem making my cell phone records in regards to the county business open to the public. I understand that the protocol is to black out all personal numbers etc. For me that is fine. My main concern is the safety and welfare of my wife and children, and their privacy. I will notify my carrier to provide whatever info the station needs as there is nothing to hide, they are only numbers. I have had this same number for at least 12 years, well before I became an elected official.

  • Guest11221

    If your only concern is for the personal calls from your family, then do not make any or accept any calls. If the phones were for you to receive county business via phone call and text and that is what the stipend is for, then your problem is solved. Stop making and/or accepting calls you should not have been receiving to begin with. You guys are sneaky!

  • Guest

    Let’s at least be secretive about the money that is being wasted at the poor people’s expense in NHC. This is sad, if there is nothing to hide, why the secrecy?

  • Guest

    What don’t you people understand, Barfield pays for his cell phone and receives the bill at his house. Basically this is his personal cell phone and instead of the county paying upwards toward $120 for a cell phone contract per month they give their employees a stipend. The stipend not only saves the county money, but also makes it more convenient for the employee so they don’t need to carry 2 cell phones. If you want to make a big deal of employees using business phones for personal use you need to take a look at CFPUA. I personally know that supervisors advise their employee to use their business phone for personal use and CFPUA is paying this bill. Maybe that is why water rates are so high, employees getting free cell phones contracts at CFPUA.


  • Guest

    What dont you understand?? The 75 dollars comes out of taxpayers money so we are paying for it if they want these phone they need to pay for it not us!!

  • Guest461

    …and believe me, it isn’t because of cell phones!!! Oh and by the way, you couldn’t have done a better job of bringing up an more functionally comparative business to lay next to the NHC council commissioners! Just thought I’d give you some accolades…

  • Guest

    Really…….How exactly do you know that CFPUA’s supervisors would say something that stupid? They are members of this community that do not deserve to be attacked by JERKS who are mad about their water bills. They don’t set rates, they don’t waste your taxes, they are the folks that you see working night and day to insure you can brush your teeth and they do not deserve your disrespect! WWAY and it’s bloggers are a bunch of JERKS that have nothing better to do than keep crap stirred up. Try reporting real news like your competition who is so professionally kicking your butts!

  • Guest7969

    listen..I am just as ticked off at these guys as anyone…but ANYBODY who has a cell phone paid for by their business…USES it for PERSONAL calls as well…PERIOD. Now saying that…my boss has complete access to my call record as well as where my texts came from. Cell phone records, as far as I know, do NOT have a complete record of text content…so just having a number really isn’t going to help anyone. The records SHOULD be public though…I just don’t expect them to NOT take personal calls or texts. Lets hold them accountable..but lets be realistic here.

  • Guest I cannot believe this nonsense

    C’mon people.
    This is over the top.
    We can either pay twice as much to get them separate cell phones or let them use their own and save the county money.
    We elected them, remember?
    If we cannot trust them to make an occasional telephone call without expecting them to detail to us every word that was muttered than WE were
    were foolish to elect them in the first place.

  • Guest4now

    The issue is not about them making personal calls on their partially county paid phone, but the fact that the public does not have access to the county business they conduct using the phones.

    Sorry to those who read and understood the article. This comment was not aimed at you.

  • Guest461

    …and “Common” seized the moment! The man needs to sit down and shut up for a change. Every time he opens his big mouth, he overloads his big butt. Personal attacks? Hardly true. The man uses our tax money for the personal use of his cell phone and denies any accountability? BARField may have a whole Walmart shopping cart full of excuses, but as “Common” so eloquently put it, the lack of space on his belt for a “personal” cell phone just doesn’t cut it! I’m still laughing…


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