A five-night getaway to Puerto Vallarta can run about $650 a person—covering round-trip airfare and a room at a classy hotel in the Mexican resort town.
Steven Rosendahl’s tab ended up considerably higher when he visited there over Thanksgiving—and taxpayers covered part of the bill.
Rosendahl is the 57-year-old Lemont Township supervisor, an elected part-time post in the southwest suburbs that carries a $20,900-a-year salary—and use of the iPhone.
While away on vacation with his family, Rosendahl decided to check his work email on his smartphone, he recalled in a recent interview with the Better Government Association. But in the process he accidentally downloaded all of his emails, racking up huge data-transfer charges.
The resulting bill, which came due in January, totaled $1,760.81—with roughly $1,616 of that coming from the mistaken data dump in Mexico.
Rosendahl ended up expensing the entire tab, meaning taxpayers paid for it.
His logic: the mistake occurred while he was doing work, so work should pay for it. And they—well, we the public—did.
“I wasn’t happy about it,” Rosendahl said of the bill. “I tried to protest it [to AT&T] but they said there was nothing I could do. It didn’t give me any warning. I was just checking my email.”
Rosendahl, who has been supervisor for the past six years, said he threatened to cancel his service if the carrier wouldn’t help lower his bill. But he never got around to following through on the threat, he acknowledged.
Jim Chilsen, a spokesman for the watchdog Citizens Utility Board, said that, unfortunately, the story from Lemont Township isn’t that unusual, although his group doesn’t keep statistics on the scope of the problem.
“It’s easy to inadvertently rack up a huge bill,” Chilsen said. “You have to be very careful when you use your cell phone outside U.S. borders.”
He said telephone companies should be more sympathetic to such mistakes, instead of engaging in “this gotcha mentality.”
An AT&T spokeswoman said the company does not comment on individual phone bills.
For what it’s worth, Rosendahl’s phone cost $1,781.61 for all of 2010, according to records obtained by the BGA under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Lemont Township Trustee Francis Wozniak, who is among those to approve spending within the organization, said he hadn’t heard about the bill—even though the board he sits on apparently signed off on it.
“I’m going to have to ask some questions and I got to find out what’s happening,” said Wozniak.
The township—which maintains some local roads, provides property tax assistance and offers social services for residents—paid for seven phones in 2010 costing a total of $12,036.62, records show.
Critics of the township form of government decry it as outdated and wasteful, and it’s a topic the BGA has taken an interest in this year and plans to keep writing about.
This story was reported and written by BGA Senior Investigator Patrick Rehkamp and BGA Intern Ricardo Torres. They can be reached at (312) 386-9201, or at firstname.lastname@example.org