Theft Puts City Hall on Hold, but Callers All Got a Buzz Out of It

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Callers found things busy Monday morning at City Hall.

Then busy again, and again, and again.

But those irate citizens who thought they were getting the runaround when telephoning city offices were finally connected with the ultimate excuse: Thieves had broken in over the weekend and stolen $23,000 worth of telephone switching equipment.

The result was that only six of the city's 54 incoming lines were left in working order and a busy signal greeted anyone attempting to contact the city by telephone.

Receptionist Debbie Zaun is well acquainted with busy Mondays, but this one "was busier than usual. I spent all day writing messages and delivering them around the building."

Laura Meaders, a spokeswoman for Phoneby, the Costa Mesa-based telephone service company employed by the city, said the thieves "just clipped the cables to the switching equipment and took it out. It's very rare. I've heard of it happening but never experienced it. I don't know what they will do with the stuff."

In an attempt to conduct a semblance of business, the City Hall conference room was set up as a temporary telephone headquarters. City staffers were forced to take turns using the room--equipped with six temporary lines--for all their telephone work, said Barbara Healy, the city's administrative coordinator.

The telephone outage came in the midst of a $75,000 expansion of the city's temporary City Hall and has prompted city officials to rethink the security of their entire telephone system, Healy said. Instead of just replacing the missing equipment, maybe a new arrangement is needed, she said.

"We're now looking into installing a completely different system," Healy said, noting that it remains unclear how long it will take to have City Hall phones in full working order. "That's not a small thing, but we can't have this happen again."

Police are investigating. In the meantime, things will remain busy at City Hall--for the staff and anyone trying to contact them.

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