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Montesano mayor: City completes investigation of mis-use of city computers

We have completed the investigation into the misuse of city-owned computers. The problem was brought to the city’s attention by a complaint from an anonymous citizen who indicated he had seen adult pictures on one of the Public Works computers. As this is inappropriate use of city equipment, eight computers were removed from that department and turned over to a forensic computer investigator.

The computers are now in the custody of the Washington State Patrol to determine if any felony laws were broken. If so, this will be their case and our investigations involving the computers is complete.

After a lengthy investigation which involved looking into the computer hard drives, going back the past five years, the investigator uncovered an approximate 8,000 hours of personal use and over 96,000 downloaded images—which included inappropriate sexual imagery, as well as wasting time looking at fishing gear, motor vehicles, sports games, etc. involving at least eight current employees or former summer help. One employee’s password was used for an approximate 2,000 hours of inappropriate material.

The information was given to an outside investigator hired to do an internal investigation. That investigation was completed and Loudermill hearings were given to the most frequent misusers. These hearings were attended by the individual, the Public Works Union representative, the city’s labor attorney and the city administrator. Mayor Estes was present as final decision-maker.

Each of these employees gave approximately the same story — that their supervisor never informed them it was improper and often had participated in viewing the inappropriate pictures themselves. They all said policy written in 1997, re-enforced by a letter written by Mayor Stone to employees in 2006, passed down to the employees from at least two former mayors, was never seen. They believed that everyone was looking at whatever they wished and since not being told it was improper; they believed it to be OK.

Most importantly to me, was that they expressed remorse. All admitted their improper use. Each said had they had known, they would have never violated policy and were very sorry that their actions had occurred. Their apology was sincere and was appreciated by me.

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.

Individual discipline has bee given and the appropriate entries made to their personnel files. Three individuals were suspended without pay. I had hoped that these three men would come to a city council meeting to express their apology to the council and the public, but I cannot force them to do so. Subsequently, I was notified by the Teamsters business agent that the three men have filed a grievance against the discipline. If this goes forward to arbitration, our labor attorney has estimated the cost to be approximately $40,000.

As a personal note, I wish I could have spoken up before; however, I was restricted by the law, confidentiality requirements and labor regulations. This year has been frustrating to sit silent when being assailed by people who did not know the total facts. I was also regretful that the grievance against the City Administrator was even filed. One employee even offered to trade the grievance against the City Administrator for the computer investigation. There were eight investigations and each was done because of a personnel issue. This administration and the city council were bound by law and duty to the citizens to investigate. Anyone and everyone had an opinion and many expressed it, yet neither the City Administrator nor I were able to respond without being accused of something new.

I hope I may soon be able to speak about the last case still pending, however, that will be several months down the road. I would also like to express my appreciation to the City Council. They were informed of everything that was occurring; they approved funding for every investigation and stood behind the administration to get to the bottom of every case. Thank you for your support Council; especially the support we received from Doug Streeter and Rich Klinger, who will be leaving the Council in December. Council members have a thankless job and I want them to know they are appreciated.