BERLIN – The Berlin Town Council agreed to move forward with purchasing town-owned cellphones for employees and elected officials.
At the recommendation of Mayor Zack Tyndall, the council voted unanimously on Monday to purchase AT&T FirstNet devices for most staff and elected officials.
He said the recommendation came in the wake of an increasing number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
“Some of these requests are for personal cellphone records of our employees,” he said. “In order to protect our employees’ privacy and increase the availability of public information, the mayor, town administrator and department heads have evaluated transitioning to town owned devices.”
Tyndall told the council during the Maryland Municipal League conference he’d met with representatives of AT&T FirstNet, which is a communication network built for first responders and critical infrastructure personnel. He said he’d tried one of the FirstNet devices during the past few months and found it to be effective.
He noted the only place he didn’t have a full strength connection was at Assateague, but that a tower was going up in the area. As a result, he suggested the town acquire 62 FirstNet devices, with 54 of them having push-to-talk capabilities. He said the change would save the town money, as it currently reimbursed 72 employees $50 a month for using their personal cellphones. Using federal and state contracts, the town will be able to get the devices for only $0.99 each.
Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said a key benefit of FirstNet was that during times of high congestion, the FirstNet users designated as first responders and critical personnel would get priority service.
“So we won’t experience that no cellular service,” she said, adding that it would be helpful during events like the Christmas parade. “Our key personnel will still be able to communicate during an emergency.”
The council voted unanimously to move forward with purchasing the FirstNet devices. Tyndall said the devices should be available in September and that AT&T staff would be available to help employees and officials transition to the new system.
“I think It’s going to be a good benefit for the town and will assist us on the emergency preparedness side and the ability for everybody to be on the same page,” Tyndall said.