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No more texting for Norway employees
NORWAY — The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a policy that will prevent town employees from using electronic communication devices, such as cell phones, for personal use while at work.
"This policy restricts personal non-emergency use of employee electronic communication devices to regularly scheduled work breaks," reads the measure.
The policy says that texting and personal cell phone usage has "created problems such as dangerous distractions, disruptions of the workplace and loss of productivity."
The town's Safety Committee and Town Manager David Holt recommended adoption of the policy.
"It's something the insurance companies are taking big notice of," said Debra Partridge, a Safety Committee member. "The state passed a distracted-driving law a little while ago, and that is included in it. So we're trying to bring the number of accidents in the town as close to zero as possible."
Holt said that there were several reasons to implement the policy, which will affect all town employees, from town office workers to police officers to road crews in the public works department.
"Obviously, the first and foremost, most important by a long way, is safety, but there's also waste of time and secondly, just the way that it looks to the public," said Holt. "We're paid by the public. We're serving the public.
... Our job isn't to be making personal calls all day."
Selectman Warren Sessions questioned the enforcement clause of the policy, which gives department heads flexibility in meting out punishment for issues.
"I don't think that the disciplinary action is spelled out clear enough," said Sessions. "So you might still cause problems between departments if one gets three verbal warnings before they get a written warning, and another department gets one [verbal], and then they get a written the next.
... You might need to spell out the disciplinary process a little clearer."
Holt said that the committee had considered that viewpoint, but had ultimately decided that department heads needed to be allowed to exercise discretion, since all instances of non-compliance are not equal.
"If an employee is sweeping the floor in one of our buildings talking on a cell phone, that's a violation, but it's unlikely that anyone will be hurt," said Holt. "However, if somebody is driving a grader through the stop sign down on 26, and they go through the stop sign because they're texting, and they hit a car and someone's killed, I would counter that the disciplinary action should be different."
"Some of our younger [highway] crew members are very apprehensive," said Holt. "They like their phones. They like to talk on them. But I think they're willing to accept this.
... It is quite well-documented that it is a matter of safety. Some of the young drivers ... believe that they drive as well with their phones as otherwise, and that's just something that we disagree on."
The organization Don't Drive and Text cites a 2007 study that suggest that texting while driving is as dangerous as drinking while driving. According the the group, texting causes 2,600 deaths, and 30,000 collisions every year.
Holt said that the goal wasn't to strictly crack down on every single call, but rather, to make sure that department heads had a tool to ensure that safety and productivity concerns were addressed.
"I'm not trying to tell anybody that personal calls don't occasionally get made," said Holt. "I mean, we have a whole bunch of humans that work here. We're talking about degree, and we're worried mostly about safety and that type of thing."
The issue has caused friction among the various departments, some of which have more cause to use cell-phones on the job than others.
"It's been tougher than any of us thought it would be," said Holt. "There's folks in one department who want to say what bad things folks in another department do, and we've had to work through that."
The police department has been the focus of criticism, as officers are sometimes instructed to use their cell phones to gather information about an incident while en-route to the incident location.
It is difficult for an outsider to tell when a police officer is using a cell phone legitimately, and when an officer is simply taking advantage of the access.
"Is there ever abuse in the police department? I'm sure," said Holt. "But some of the other departments see that, and they're critical of it. So that's what we got into, and that's why we've had so many meetings and other discussion. But just because something's hard doesn't mean that you avoid it. "