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Welfare Unit Cell Phone Calls Cost LA County $500K

Monthly fees add up on 1,400 unused phones
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(AP/FILE)

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Reacting to a report that more than $500,000 was spent on inappropriate or unnecessary cellular telephone calls made by child welfare workers in 2009, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved on Tuesday to curb spending on more than 5,000 mobile telephones.

Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe found that about a quarter of the Department of Children and Family Services cellular telephone budget of more than $2.2 million went toward questionable charges.

Long distance calls, text messages and directory assistance calls that appeared unrelated to work were part of the problem. But the department also paid fees for features and services that employees didn’t use, including monthly service fees on more than 1,400 phones that sat unused.

Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Gloria Molina called for all county department heads to review employee cell phone use. They also told the county’s chief executive officer to make sure that DCFS implements Watanabe’s recommendations.

The board voted its unanimous support for the plan, which will also require the CEO to develop a countywide policy for cell phone usage and reducing costs by pooling minutes and data access.

The changes are likely just one of many that DCFS will face as management changes hands. Former director Trish Ploehn was replaced Dec. 14 by Antonia Jimenez, who had been the county’s deputy chief executive officer responsible for child welfare. Jimenez will serve as acting director until a replacement for Ploehn is found.

The department has been working to improve training, reporting and interagency communication, but at least 67 children have died of abuse or neglect since January 2008 after being referred to the department, according to county statistics.

Officials have admitted that many of the deaths involved case management errors. In August, the county’s Office of Independent Review issued a report that said Ploehn’s department had not fully complied with a 2007 state law requiring the release of numerous records in fatality cases.

The county owns more than 17,000 cell phones, according to a posting on Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s website. The board expects a report from the CEO in 30 days.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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