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Information request disputed

KILLINGTON - A thorny question has come before Killington town officials: what are the limits of personal privacy rights when it comes to using cell phones to discuss town business?

That question occupied the Board of Selectmen on June 7, when a special meeting was called to determine whether attorney Melvin B. Neisner should have complete access to Town Manager Seth Webb's personal phone records.

"What we need to determine is whether personal calls made with a personal cell phone are public documents," said Chairman Chris Bianchi.

"I'm curious to know how business and personal calls got mixed up," commented resident Vito Resneas from the floor.

Webb provided Neisner with the records, but crossed out the calls he considered to be personal.

"I am entitled to them," Neisner said when asked for comment later.

Bianchi said it was not uncommon for town officials to use their personal cell phones to conduct town business. Webb gets a $50 stipend to cover a portion of his cell phone expenses.

"This is done to save the town money," Selectman Bernard Rome said after the meeting. "There's no point in keeping two cell phones."

Former selectman Jim Haff thought someone should be appointed to keep track of the calls.

"There should be a custodian of records," he said. "It seems a little weird that the person with the phone is the one providing the information."

The issue is larger than that, Bianchi argued.

"If someone else makes the determination it would violate Seth's right to privacy," he said.

"But the person who controls the phone is the one who is making the decision," said Haff.

Selectwoman Patty McGrath said there should be strong reasons before going after all the calls.

"You can't violate someone's privacy without cause," she said.

Rome said letting town officials use their own phones cost less than subsidizing a bunch of separate ones.

The board went into executive session with the town attorney to deliberate and write a response to Neisner's request, and issued a copy of the response.

"Mr. Neisner appeals the redaction by Seth Webb, the Town Manager, from his cell phone bills, requested by Mr. Neisner, of account numbers and 'known personal calls related to family, friends, medical, health and personal legal expense,'" the determination read in part. "Information as to a person's cell phone account numbers and records of calls made to family, friends, medical, health and personal legal expense is not information produced or acquired in the course of town business, and accordingly not a public record or document."

Neisner said later that he has not decided whether to appeal. He said he believes the town may be hiding something.

"I want to know what's going on in my town," he said. "Why they couldn't make a decision six months ago, I don't know. This is obnoxious and inappropriate. I'm entitled to those records, and perhaps the courts may make a decision. I have clients, and this isn't the biggest thing on my plate."

As of this writing, no appeal has been filed in Rutland County Superior Court.