Car 54, there you are

Unbeknownst to many county workers, Butte County has been quietly outfitting its fleet of vehicles with GPS tracking systems, which can pinpoint the location of any vehicle—and by extension, any employee—anywhere in the world at any time of day.

County CAO Paul McIntosh said the systems were being installed slowly, “depending on departments and what resources are available,” and that the devices are to ensure the safety of employees, many of whom travel far into the remote reaches of the county, sometimes alone, to complete public works projects or deal with people using county services.

“[The devices are] in case we can’t locate a person and they’re unable to communicate, so we know where they are,” McIntosh said.

Rudy Jenkins, head of the Butte County Employees Association, said the county is using “Big Brother” tactics to keep track of county workers.

“We have some issues of who’s going to monitor it, how it’s going to be monitored. Well, they just totally blew us off. Wouldn’t respond to us at all,” Jenkins said.

When interviewed, Jenkins was under the impression that the county required board action to install the devices and hadn’t begun to do so yet. But McIntosh indicated that some devices had been installed and that the board had no legal requirement to vote on the plan. McIntosh said he had no information on which vehicles had already been GPS-equipped. The memo announcing the plan, sent out in April, 2004, gives discretion to county heads as to whether they want to participate.

“Really it’s the fact that the technology is available now,” McIntosh said. “If someone were in an accident or ran off the road in a ditch and were unable to respond, it could save lives.”

Jenkins sees it differently.

“GPS is just going to locate the dead bodies,” he said. “If you’re concerned about us, give us satellite phones so we can call for help if we need help. But if you want to quote me, I’ve got two words for you: ‘Big Brother.'”