WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Transparency is a word we hear a lot from politicians and elected officials, but does it hold true to its meaning when members of the media or the public need information?
Recently, we requested cell phone records from a New Hanover County Commissioner’s cell phone, which your tax dollars are paying for. That should make the bills, e-mails and texts public record.
New Hanover County told us it doesn’t keep those records.
So we wanted to know if our surrounding counties give out cell phones, and if we’d be able to obtain those records.
Columbus County’s Purchasing Director Stuart Carroll said absolutely openness is in place for obvious reasons.
“If we don’t keep it transparent and don’t keep it open, then folks tend to think we have something to hide,” Carroll said.
Columbus County Commissioners don’t get county work phones.Department managers are given phones, and they decide whether their employees need work phones, too.
All cell phone bills and records go through Carroll. He monitors calls and texts, but said only a handfull of people are allowed to text, unlike New Hanover County Commissioners.
“We’re pretty simple, pretty standard, so texting would be a limited thing depending on who the person is,” Carroll said. “Our sheriff’s deputies would have that for, you know trying to keep a low profile or low key if they’re on a stakeout.”
Bladen County has similar policies. County Manager Greg Martin said County Commissioners are not given phones. They are mainly for public safety and human services like law enforcement, DSS and animal control. Records are kept, and employees are required to reimburse the county for personal calls.
Martin said he can’t recall any requests, but if we or any public citizen wants the information, he can get it.
“We fully recognize that tax payer dollars are used to fund the services, and therefore, we want to be accountable to our citizens and to provide information that is requested or needed by individuals of the public,” Martin said.
We spoke with Pender County, too, and found out its commissioners are not given cell phones, either, but cell records of employees who do have county phones are open and available.
Wilmington city spokesperson Malissa Talbert said not every city employee gets a phone, but the city does pay for either phones or stipends for employees who do. Talbert said all records, including personal cell phones are available if we, or you, need them.
We did not reach anyone in Brunswick County government to find out about their policy.