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Big phone bill, oversight source of debate

Everyone agrees it is a big bill - the disagreement is over who owes it.

The Lawrence County Commission has sent Chesapeake attorney J. Stewart Kaiser

a $6,747.20 bill for phone service in his office but in the county commission's name. The commission contends Kaiser should reimburse the county for the entire bill; Kaiser said he will pay the bill but contends he does not owe the entire amount.

The $6,747.20 was accumulated between December 1997 and

April 19, 2005.

The phone bill and service were discovered earlier this year when the Lawrence County Commission switched its telephone service from SBC Ameritech to STI, Inc., and long distance service from SBC Ameritech to First Communications.

Assistant administrator Tami Meade, who spearheaded the push to save money on the phone bill, said at that time, telephone company officials mentioned the telephone service in the office at 411 Rockwood Avenue in Chesapeake.

"I said, 'We don't have an office at 411 Rockwood Avenue in Chesapeake,'" Meade recalled. The telephone company advised otherwise.

Kaiser said when he was employed as an attorney by the commissioner at the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) from December 1997 to January 2002, county officials agreed to provide him with a phone line and long distance service for agency business.

"I was making business calls out of my own pocket and didn't think I should have to do this and at that time they agreed with me," Kaiser said.

Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens, who was not in office at that time, disagreed.

"We sent a letter back to him saying we know of no such agreement between the Lawrence County Commission and CSEA," Stephens said.

Even after Kaiser was no longer with the CSEA, his office continued to have the phone service and long distance telephone calls were placed using the county line.

The basic rate for telephone service to that office was $52.19 a month, which amounts to $3,131.40 for the period of time Kaiser worked for CSEA. Subtracting $3,131.40 from $6,747.20 leaves $3,615.80 in long distance bills. Meade said she is checking to see how many of the long distance calls may have been personal and how many were for business purposes.

Kaiser said when he retired from CSEA on Jan. 1, 2002, he apparently began receiving the long distance part of the bills addressed to the commissioners which he assumed was for that line.

"I do not open the bills, probably a mistake," Kaiser said in his letter, "but the bills were only for long distance calls, not the phone line."

Kaiser said he does not want conflict with the commissioners and will pay the entire amount, but he will later investigate how much of it he really owes and then later may seek to be reimbursed by the county.