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City workers steal time with 'chat'

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD At a press conference last Thursday Mayor Charles Ryan revealed that an initial investigation showed that 40 city-owned telephone lines have been used to call "The Raven" adult chat line. Many of those telephone lines are in School Department buildings, and although some of the telephone calls were placed in the evening, many were during standard business hours.

Ryan explained that the issue confronting the city was theft due to lost work hours and any charges made to the city's telephone lines. The telephone service to the city's schools and libraries are paid largely through federal funds, and Ryan has turned over the results of the investigation so far to the United States Attorney for further possible legal action.

The investigation began six weeks ago, when Bruce Fitzgerald, Ryan's top aide, brought the situation to the mayor's attention. An analysis of calls placed on city telephones showed that calls were made to the chat line service. Ryan said that at one telephone, one employee had spent 80 hours over a four-month period on the chat line.

Ryan said the revelations were "pretty discouraging" in light of the financial situation of the city. He also said he had no explanation so far why the majority of these cases of abuse centered in the School Department. Superintendent Joseph Burke, who also attended the press conference, did not offer any reasons.

Although the conversations on the chat line could be of a sexual nature, they also might not be, Ryan explained. Regardless of the subject, Ryan emphasized that time in the chat line during work hours was stealing time from the city.

Although no employees' names were revealed at the press conference, the mayor did say that hearings would shortly begin with employees whose telephone lines have been used to call the chat service. Termination is one of the actions the city could take, but Patrick Sullivan, who is in charge of the city's buildings, said that each case was individual and the punishment would fit the case.

"This is not a situation where one size fits all," Ryan said.

The employees will be put on administrative leave as they are being investigated.

Ryan added that a wide variety of employees are involved in the investigation, which he called an "unfolding situation."