Can you hear them now? 

A month or so ago, in the building permits and inspections office on the second floor of City Hall, a man started talking loudly into his portable phone, and his voice boomed, and for two staff behind the counter, the disruption was the last straw: They were joining the offices in City Hall that have posted signs asking people to curb cell phone use.

“To help the operation of our office, please refrain from using cell phones at the counter,” reads the sign. The request has been ignored as often as it has been heeded, says Rae An Sarconi, office manager for the building inspection division of public works.

The appeal is similar to one posted at reception desks at the city attorney’s office and the Office of Planning and Grants (OPG). The Municipal Courtroom’s request to turn cell phones off is posted on a permanent wall sign, which also asks courtroom visitors to “remove your hat.”

Since posting the sign, Sarconi says, she and the three other staff who work with the public at the counter have twice had to ask people to take their conversations out into the hallway.

“I don’t think we do it often enough,” she says. But, she says, it’s a struggle to know when enough is enough.

At OPG, the sign asking clients to refrain from using cell phones at the counter has been up since spring. Darr Ghaddar, senior secretary at OPG, says the office’s sign is a regular source of commentary because it is three-dimensional—an old and broken cell phone, recovered from a downtown alley, is taped to it. “They [clients] find the crushed phone comical,” Ghaddar says.

Usually, she says, staff just point to the sign when they’d like a cell phone yakker to tone it down, turn it off or take it outside. The sign went up, she says, because many people were reticent to shush each others’ high-volume cell phone conversations.

“Most people are pretty polite,” she says. “They just sort of suffer through it.”

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