Dialing Your Dollars

You say you haven't got a cellular phone? Heck, you own hundreds of 'em! And right now some local bureaucrat is using one to make a hairdressing appointment.

The order went on to note that departments are responsible for reviewing monthly cellular bills and for holding "their employees accountable for any improper use of cellular or fixed phones."

What does all this bureaucratese mean?
Impossible to say, specifically, because Avinó never spelled out what he meant by "improper use." But back in 1991, at least, cellulars seem to have been intended as a last resort, not a convenience.

Even some of Teele's colleagues on the commission believe the attitude toward mobile phones has become too cavalier.

"When I came into office, they were giving these phones away like candy," Bruce Kaplan recalled. "There were no rules or warnings. It was just like, 'Hey, here it is. Go for it.' I learned the hard way, because I got two phones for my district offices, and the bills came back in the hundreds. So I yanked the phones. Now my aides use beepers and a lot of quarters."

Other phone-frugal commissioners include Dennis Moss, Gwen Margolis, and Javier Souto, each of whose bills rarely tops $100. "The only time I use the county phone is when my personal phone is broken," Margolis noted. "Because I find that I usually make personal calls on my cellular, and it's not right for the public to pay for those. There really should be some guidelines."

In principle, Esther Favole would probably agree. But in practice, she explained, the issue is more complicated. A veteran of Dade politics who serves as Natacha Millan's chief of staff, Favole runs up bills that routinely rank among the fattest of any commissioner's aide. Among her frequent phone buddies are her personal banker, her ex-husband, her mother, and lobbyist Ron Book, a long-time friend with whom she talks practically every day.

Favole said many of these calls had to do with coordinating care for her fourteen-year-old daughter. Others, she admitted, were in a strict sense personal. "But when you work twelve to fourteen hours a day, there isn't any other time to make certain calls," she said, echoing Pedro Reboredo's line of reasoning, one common to commission staff.

The question remains: Why does Favole, who spends most of her time in an office, choose to make so many of these calls on her county-issued cellular phone? "Look, when I make a call, I don't think about the fact that somebody might track the numbers," she replied. "I don't think, 'This is a call I shouldn't be making.' And because I don't think about things in those terms, I just dial."

Not surprisingly, this mindset extends well beyond the commissioners and their staffs.

You might think that Carmen Lunetta, director of the Port of Miami, would take his cellular phone with him wherever he goes. Running the multimillion-dollar port expansion is an around-the-clock endeavor, after all, one that must require power-phoning aplenty. "I make calls going to and coming from work and they're basically business-related," Lunetta confirmed.

But from the look of his bills, Lunetta reserves most of his phone time for the folks who really matter: his wife. His brother. His son. In fact, calls to family comprise nearly half of Lunetta's monthly tolls, which hover around $200. Most of the rest are calls into his office.

When we asked him about his phone use, Lunetta genially agreed to identify a few commonly called numbers. The first one we read him was his own home phone number.

"I'm not sure who that is," he remarked cagily. He paused for a long moment and swallowed. "Oh, did you say 2881? That's my home."

Suddenly Lunetta sounded a tad peevish. "If I make a call from the cellular, it's an important call. I'm not going to go on a witch-hunt with you. You could be pulling these numbers out of thin air. Fax the damn bills over."

We did. But we never heard back from Lunetta.
His brother, a builder, was more candid about his daily discussions with Lunetta. "We talk about family stuff," Carl explained.

Like Carmen Lunetta, Harvey Ruvin is one busy bureaucrat. As clerk of the county court, the former Metro commissioner oversees a staff of 1400. But his phone bills for April and June of 1994 portray a different Harvey Ruvin, a man thoroughly dedicated to friends, family, decent entertainment, and his coiffure.

Ruvin called his home a total of 132 times during these two months alone. Nearly all the numbers he dialed frequently (besides that of his office) belonged to his friends. While many of these people spoke glowingly of Ruvin when we got in touch with them, few could explain what sort of county business the clerk might be calling them about. His June bill alone contains a prodigious 650 calls.

For sheer versatility, Ruvin seems unrivaled. He called restaurants. He called hotels. He called political consultant and buddy George DePontis. He called then-Metro commissioner Sherman Winn. He called MovieFone. He called Discovery Zone. He called Toys R Us. And he called his hairdresser. He really gave his county-issued cellular a workout during a May 1994 trip to Orlando, logging $88 in "roamer" charges. The total damage for that month came to $447, after a $400 April.

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