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Two Monte Public Works employees admit to watching porn on the job

MONTESANO — Two employees in the Montesano Public Works Department admitted to city investigators that they were watching pornography using city computers when they should have been out on the job working and now face suspensions for that activity.

Montesano Mayor Ken Estes says the incident is just the tip of the iceberg that shows city employees in various departments wasting thousands of hours surfing the Internet on fishing and sports websites and social media websites and shows a “flagrant disregard” for city policies that have been in place since 1997 and re-affirmed several times over the years, but had apparently been ignored or forgotten.

In just the Public Works department, the investigators uncovered more than 96,000 images — not all pornographic — and more than 8,000 hours of personal use on city computers and iPads. A third employee faces suspension in connection with wasting city time and other Public Works employees also received notices to stop wasting city time. To be clear, not all of the personal use was done on the city’s time, but on their breaks using city equipment, which is still a violation of the city’s policies.

Mayor Estes said the investigation also found evidence of employees in the Police Department and Fire Department using city computers for personal use, including police officers watching movies when the mayor said they should be out on the job patrolling the streets. Mayor Estes sent management letters to Police Chief Brett Vance and Fire Chief Corey Rux directing them to make immediate changes.

Estes said it’s not clear how many hours other employees were wasting because he chose not to spend the extra money for technology specialists to scrub other city computers looking for those details, choosing to rely on anecdotal evidence and testimony presented by the city’s independent investigator, William Curtright, a retired sheriff’s detective.

The Montesano City Council is now considering policy changes that would mandate that city employees never use social media websites and to re-enforce its existing policies requiring city employees not use city-owned computers for personal use. City Administrator Kristy Powell says the proposed policy is being reviewed by the city’s unions.

Mayor Estes said the city received an anonymous tip this past spring that Public Works employees were looking at inappropriate content on city computers at the old Public Works building. The tip came at the same time the city was dealing with other investigations involving the Public Works employees, including whether a few of the employees were creating a hostile environment for one of the crew, which was later found to be unfounded; a paint theft investigation of former public works supervisor Russ Burke, who later was fired and is now suing the city; and the investigation spurred by sexual harassment complaints against Powell, which were later found to be isolated incidents that didn’t constitute a trend.

Total cost of all of the city’s investigations during the past year or so have not yet been tallied up.

The city took possession of all of the computers at Public Works, including a computer used by the supervisor, and hired former Montesano city councilman Brian Schumacher and his technology company Iron Heights to look at the computer use. Schumacher looked at computer use between 2007 and 2012. During this time, one image that may be an adolescent young nude woman in a sexual position was discovered. This image, along with the computers, were sent to the Washington State Patrol for further analysis and is being investigated separately for potential child pornography.

LOTS OF EXCUSES

An Aug. 26 memo from Powell to Mayor Estes spells out the challenges in the investigation.

The city’s investigation found that Public Works employees were consistently sharing their passwords with one another, which was against city policy. One employee even posted his password on his computer monitor for everybody else to see.

Past supervisors apparently did not disseminate the city’s computer policies clearly and the city “cannot prove who was at the computer when passwords were used,” Powell wrote.

The city also cannot prove that the city’s iPads were to only be used for city business and not at home for personal use, as well, because of unclear policies.

All Public Works employees admitted that they used the computers extensively for non-city work.

Mayor Estes said that there was also at least one transient that consistently found his way into the old Public Works Building and ended up befriending some of the Public Works crew. Estes said that the building was left unsecure many times over the years.

“Those are issues we took into account in this investigation and we know it’s hard to prove who was doing what,” Estes said.

ADMISSIONS

The big reason the two public works employees received suspensions: Because they admitted what they did in not only interviews with the investigators, but in their discipline hearings with the mayor.

The report found that public works employee Jason Manley, the son of a former public works supervisor and an applicant for the public works director job last year, “visited several adult-themed websites over the course of several years and spent quite a lot of time doing it.” Manley was the only employee characterized as a “high use, high risk” employee on a chart Schumacher developed to map the computer use of public employees.

As an example, on one lunch hour on July 11, 2011, Manley allegedly visited six dozen adult-themed websites looking for prostitutes and escorts on Las Vegas and Los Angeles Craig’s List websites with Web titles such as “sexy caramel colored pillowe [sic] princess looking for fun; sexy, sweet, lonely and horny; Latina starlet seeking a gal pal; and can you blow my mind?”

The computer data revealed Manley had visited similar websites making up more than 2,000 hours of time — some of that during his lunch time and on breaks, some during time he should have been working, all of it on city computers.

Curtright, the investigator, confronted Manley about the websites.

In a transcription of the interview, Curtright told Manley, “What I don’t understand is that you could be looking for house plans on the computer, looking for a boat and the next entry is a Craig’s List entry about cute bi-female looking for white chocolate, some crazy websites, and then so there is the boat, that and then there is, maybe, the house plan issue and it is in the same time frame and I believe the reasonable person would believe that you didn’t walk away from the computer, someone else jumped on and you came back.”

“It’s possible,” Manley said.

“Help me understand that,” Curtright said.

“It’s possible and maybe I looked at a couple of them, we all did, is it illegal?” Manley said.

“I am not accusing you of doing anything,” Curtright said.

“It seems like it. … My problem is everybody in this whole city, you could bring here and get something on them that violates policy and procedures.”

“Someone used Jason’s password and looked at a lot of this boat stuff, went to Craig’s List and had some extensive review of ‘sexy lesbian stud, steady femme, nice boobs,’” Curtright said. “Read the list. It goes on and on. I don’t make this stuff up. Are those places you went on the computer?”

“I don’t know,” Manley replied. “Maybe. Maybe I was goofing around. I don’t pay attention to it. If you are clicking, clicking, yeah, maybe I did. Maybe I got bored one day. Who knows?”

“It is not just one time,” Curtright said. “It is over a long period of time and many, many visits to these sites.”

“The truth is that it was me,” Manley replied. “I was bored, goofing around at the end of the day. Everyone was always leaving early. I was the only one there. I got bored. That’s it. Bottomline. Jesus.”

The investigation also found that Sam Martin, a longtime Public Works employee a few years from retirement, consistently watched pornography videos and pictures at work and shared some of it with several of his co-workers. However, the computer investigation conducted by Iron Heights characterized Martin as “low use, low risk” when it came to the computers with “very little evidence of them using the Internet.”

During two taped interviews, Martin denied he did anything wrong. “Mr. Martin, more than one city employee has told me that they and other employees told you that you shouldn’t be viewing and you shouldn’t be sharing this type of video,” Curtright told him. “Do you believe they were not being truthful when they told you to stop?”

“I don’t remember anyone saying that,” Martin replied in the transcript.

Martin continued to dodge questions and deny he did anything wrong throughout the second interview.

“During the interview, it appeared that Mr. Martin was not answering questions completely and wasn’t being truthful or didn’t fully understand the questions or both,” Curtright wrote, adding he talked to the union representative with Martin and was willing to give Martin one last chance to say what had happened.

The third interview was not taped, but Curtright wrote up a one-page sheet of the interview.

During this other interview, Curtright wrote, that Martin disclosed, “He had been using city computers to view pornographic images and pictures. He said he had been doing this since computers had been put in at the city shops but he couldn’t remember how long ago that was. He said he had shared pictures or video clips of naked or partially naked females with other employees, including summer help, but he didn’t remember that he had ever shared pictures or video clips that would have been pornographic in nature. He said, ‘I wouldn’t have done that.’ Mr. Martin said he would call the guys over to look at a picture or video clip if he thought it was funny and if he thought they would think it was funny too and enjoy it.

“I showed Mr. Martin four pictures that had been pulled from one of the city computers,” Curtright wrote. “These were pictures of females that were either nude or partially nude and one that showed a couple in a sexual position. Mr. Martin said, ‘I have seen those pictures before but I don’t know if I saw them on a city computer.’ When I reminded him that the pictures had been taken from a city computer, he admitted that he must have viewed them on the city computer.”

Manley was issued a notice suspending him from work without pay for 10 days. Martin was given a notice suspending him from work without pay for five days, with the mayor noting Martin is a “long-term employee whose performance has been good” and that he has “no significant personnel actions reflected” in his file. Both Martin and Manley are now appealing the punishment through their union’s grievance process.

“During the internal investigation, you accepted responsibility for the adult and inappropriate content you viewed,” Estes wrote to Manley. “This behavior, which includes hundreds of hours of public time on a public computer, is both a waste of public funds and a discredit to the public service.”

Martin was given the option of giving a public apology to reduce his suspension to two days. Manley was not given that option.

“What you did was clearly wrong,” Estes wrote to Martin. “While you may not have known about the city’s computer policy and your supervisors may have witnessed and no one seemingly condoned your use, your fellow employees and your training told you that showing inappropriate jokes and images was wrong. Your behavior is long standing.”

Estes says he’s since been under fire for not terminating either employee on the spot. At the same time, Estes says he’s facing criticism for issuing punishments that some think are too harsh. “I’m getting hit from both sides here,” Estes said. “The criticism is harsh, but real.”

In a letter to the City Council sent last week and printed in full on A-6, Estes said, “I believe there has been a culture of time wasting, definitely caused by poor supervision, a lack of respect for city property and an unconcern as to the use of public resources. I sincerely hope this culture is broken, that employees have learned from this experience and now look forward, by working hard, to regaining the public trust.”

Estes sent letters to all of the Public Works employees putting them on notice to stop wasting the taxpayer’s time.

“At some point, common sense should have told you that the relative volume of personal usage far outweighed official use of city computers,” Estes wrote to one of the employees.

Another employee faces a five-day suspension specifically for doing union duties on city time and destroying a city-owned iPad, which he says was dropped at his house, but also was somehow wiped clean of all information by the time it was handed over to investigators. Estes said the city had to spend $2,000 on special software to restore the data on the iPad — only to find no inappropriate content, just a couple thousand hours of Netflix watching, movies and sports photos.

Estes notes that roughly half of the personal use was not during work hours, but at home. Other times, the iPad may have been used on lunch or at breaks. He acknowledges it’s not fair to construe that all of the personal time was done on time the employee should have been paid. The employee also said that the iPad had content on it belonging to another employee before he received it.

Powell says she made it clear that employees were not to use the iPads for personal use. But there was no clear policy spelling this out and Curtright couldn’t substantiate the claim in his report. Estes said he’s willing to drop the suspension to two days if the employee gives a public apology.

OTHERS UNDER FIRE

City Council candidate Tyler Trimble is also listed in the Iron Heights report from his time as a summer Public Works crew member. The city says Trimble was issued a computer profile and password — the only summer employee listed on the report and that Trimble allegedly was considered “low use, high risk” in his computer use, by sending out “racy” messages with “non-explicit references to genitalia and sex in nearly half of their messages.”

The messages may have been at the same time Trimble pleaded guilty to phone harassment for forwarding nude photos of his girlfriend, who was 17, to other people from back in 2008 — during the time frame the computers were examined. It’s a lesson he says he learned from. He’s running unopposed.

However, Trimble questions the validity of the report because he says the city never issued him a password or profile and denied doing anything wrong, but after reviewing the city’s report, notes that other employees were said to be visiting websites like “StripeZone,” “Arbitersports,” and “City University” when that fits his computer habits more.

“I’m a referee and I attended City University so that would make sense for me,” Trimble said. “I would use other employees passwords and computers. I didn’t have my own computer. I would just use whatever was on.” Estes says the city never pursued the issue because Trimble is no longer a city employee.

Estes did issue letters to several of his department heads.

Community Services Director Mike Wincewicz was sent a letter for allegedly sharing dirty jokes and inappropriate emails, an activity that has not happened again in several years, Estes noted. Wincewicz is also the former Public Works supervisor.

Estes said that former public works supervisor Burke also was allegedly complicit in allowing the poor computer usage activity to continue. Burke was asked to come in for a city interview, but did not.

Rocky Howard, the current Public Works director, was not sent a letter because Estes said Howard did nothing wrong and no issues were found on his computer.

An Oct. 15 letter sent to Police Chief Brett Vance was to make clear that the chief understands the computer use policies.

Curtright’s report states that police officers work 12-hour shifts and when they are on their breaks or lunch/dinner breaks, the chief allows them to use the city computers for non-work related or personal research.

“On slow days or slow shifts, he allows them to come into the station and use city computers or watch movies or videos,” Curtright wrote. The chief “states he would rather have his officers come into the station and watch a movie at night when they are tired rather than crash a patrol car because they are too tired to drive.” Estes wrote to the chief, “The city cannot support this practice. These men are police officers, paid a shift differential for night work and need to be out doing their job, which includes patrolling, observing movements, etc. If they are not managing their sleep habits well enough to work all night, they should not be getting paid, nor should they be getting special consideration. We are very concerned that you correct this issue as soon as possible.”

An Oct. 15 letter the mayor sent to Fire Chief Corey Rux states that although firefighters work 24-hour shifts, they should not be paid for personal time.

“I firmly believe that on that shift, the only downtime should be for sleep,” Estes wrote.

Estes said that Rux should also no longer allow his employees to use city computers for personal use.

“This is not an acceptable practice with this administration and council,” Estes wrote. “Going forward, if the employees want to use their own devices, iPads, tablets, computers, etc., they may do so during their break and lunch time.”

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