Chatty Jimmy

Cookeville city manager spends hours making personal calls from his office, yet complains of expense of responding to open records requests

COOKEVILLE, Tenn.  (Nov. 21) -- According to Cookeville's insurance lawyers in a federal civil rights case naming City Manager Jim Shipley, 6.5 hours of time to fulfill public records requests over a 14-month period was "inundating, harassing disruption" of the municipal government operation.

But in the 12 months ending August 1997, City Manager Jim Shipley had chatted away more than nine hours on personal long-distance phone calls from his office, according to records obtained by The Putnam Pit under the state open records law Shipley is fighting to ignore. And those were just the calls he placed from his office.

A more sophisticated report would have been possible if the city did not refuse to provide records in electronic form -- an issue that currently is before the U.S. District Court in Nashville in one of the four civil rights cases in which Shipley is named.

According to Shipley's phone records, the city's chief executive jabbered away his workdays, talking long distance for nearly three hours in March 1997 on personal matters, more than an hour and a half the previous month, and more than an hour and a half in August 1997.

This does not include time he spent on personal local calls or talking on personal calls placed to him.

In a brief in support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, the city's insurance lawyers from Knoxville assert the city was justified in refusing to provide public records to out of state journalists who make so-called excessive records demands.

In one case, according the city's insurance company lawyers, one poor wretch was forced to photocopy five consecutive pages from a loose-leaf notebook in 30 itsy-bitsy minutes, a chore she found so challenging, burdensome and bothersome she asked to never have to deal with the reporter again.

Meanwhile, Shipley spoke on Aug. 28 for 32.2 minutes to 731-6438 in Nashville, and on Feb. 3, he spoke 23.5 minutes on a personal call to 456-3903 in Crossville. In March 1997, when he spoke 153.7 minutes on personal outgoing phone calls, he reimbursed the city $19.94, according to notations made in the columns of the phone logs.

But while this may cover the actual cost of the phone calls, it does not appear to cover taxes or his salary and benefits for the time he chatted from his office, a remarkable oversight for a man who recently proposed an ordinance that reporters seeking public records pay the cost of city employee time, and their benefits, for doing work mandated by the state legislature.