Car Phone Charges Double With St. Lawrence At Wheel

June 16, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

On the afternoon of April 4, Charles St. Lawrence left his office shortly before 3:30 p.m., got into his car and picked up the phone. Within the next two hours, he made seven calls and talked for 25 minuteson the car phone, billed to the county Housing Authority.

It was a typical day for St. Lawrence. The chairman of the housing agency's governing board often uses the car phone several times a day in running the county's low-income projects.

St. Lawrence, a Severna Park resident and U.S. Census Bureau official who has served on the seven-member volunteer board since 1988, benefits from an unusual arrangement.

Other housing authorities in the area, including Annapolis and Baltimore, don't provide car phonesfor their supervisory boards. Neither does the county school system.

"If I got one, it would be at my own expense," said Nancy Gist, aretired teacher who is president of the school board.

St. Lawrence said he's unsure where the Bell Atlantic Mobile Phone came from andhas had it less than a year. He said he uses it only for business calls.

The absence of an executive director for the authority, he said, "puts a lot more pressure on my time."

The authority's last executive director, June C. Waller, said the car phone was in a Jeep bought by her predecessor. Waller, who returned to Colorado in January,said she was given use of the four-wheel drive vehicle and the phone.

Harold Greene, executive director of the Annapolis Housing Authority, also was given a car with a mobile phone for business. Five of the seven County Council members lease government cars, which includephones, to be accessible to constituents. School Superintendent Larry L. Lorton doesn't receive a car or mobile phone.

Waller said sherarely used the car phone.

Her predecessor, Vincent O. Leggett, resigned in January 1989 following reports of lavish spending, including buying the luxury Jeep and $1,200 car phone. He also was faulted for installing a luxury executive suite and spending thousands on foodand travel.

A review of phone bills requested by the Anne ArundelCounty Sun shows the charges have doubled since Waller was dismissed.

While Waller typically spent $20 or $30 a month on the car phone, St. Lawrence charged $60 and $80 worth of calls in February, March and April.

Those figures include a $16 access fee. Calls cost about 36 cents a minute during peak hours, when St. Lawrence makes most of his calls.

The largest mobile phone bill paid by the authority since June 1990 was $81.46 for calls and air time between March 12 andApril 10. Waller's bills ranged from $19.93 to $35.37.

St. Lawrence said he uses the phone to keep in easy reach and to avoid making calls for his volunteer work from his office.

Some tenants and housing advocates support his use of a car phone, saying it would help solve problems more quickly.

"I think he should know what goes on," said Linda, a Freetown resident who asked to use only her first name.

Others, including members of the Black Political Forum, questioned whether the agency should spend money on a car phone for a volunteer. Last month, the coalition of black leaders called for increased tenant and minority representation on the board and urged St. Lawrence to resign. St. Lawrence refused to step down.

Carl O. Snowden, an Annapolis alderman and forum member, said the car phone "raises a question of judgment."

"That they would spend money that's essentially designated for poor people, to me that's not appropriate," he said.

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