West Palm employee probe finds e-mails, porn and trysts

December 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Corruption, Local News

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WEST PALM BEACH — Some city employees spent hours on porn sites, while others e-mailed ethnic jokes or racist photos. For others, the offense was forwarding religious inspirational e-mails to colleagues.

For the city, it added up to one thing: misusing government equipment on idle or offensive pursuits.

Employment records provided by the city Tuesday show that its ongoing inquiry into computer misuse, which began six months ago, has led to four firings, nine resignations, one suspension and three reprimands. All the employees recently received training in respecting co-workers and most also attended sessions in e-mail liability and workplace harassment, city spokesman Peter Robbins said.

Two of those reprimanded work in human resources, the department conducting the investigation.

Two of those fired, Larry Brown, a public utilities operations coordinator, and Kendrick Crawford, a public works code enforcement officer, were investigated for misuse of city vehicles and that led to discovery of offensive e-mails, according to investigators.

Brown used a city car for a romantic interlude with another employee, Patrice Robinson, investigators alleged. Brown was fired; Robinson quit.

Crawford used his city car for a lunch break outside the city limits, “for sexual interaction,” according to investigators. Further investigation showed improper Internet use, his personnel file stated.

Steven Strong, a wastewater plant operator, was fired Dec. 17 after the city cited him with “gross misconduct” and “excessive loss of normal working hours.” His termination letter said that from June through early November, he spent more than 20 hours on the Internet, including 64,853 hits on Web sites. Printouts in his personnel file show that much of it was porn.

Patricia Daniels, a secretary, was fired Nov. 6 for sending office e-mails that included racial and ethnic jokes.

The punishments were determined by the nature of the offense and were not related to city budget restraints, officials said.

Darlene Snowball, a purchasing agent, for example, allegedly had used her city computer to send religious materials; she was reprimanded. Melva Brewster, a parks and recreation secretary, spent an “enormous” number of hours on the Internet, an investigator alleged; she got a three-day suspension in November.

Some of the employees who were fired or resigned are taking legal action, through union representation or lawyers. Diane Phillips, who resigned rather than be fired, said she has requested powerhouse Stuart lawyer Willie Gary to represent her; she hasn’t heard back. Another lawyer said he didn’t think he could help, she said.

Phillips conceded that she’d sent a couple of e-mails with religious jokes “to the same two people I’ve always sent e-mails to, but nothing anyone got insulted over.” The city overreacted and treated employees unevenly, she said.

“I have received nothing but excellent reviews in the 19 years I was employed with the city and I made a stupid mistake, but it appears they chose who they wanted to keep on and who they didn’t,” she said.

Palm Beach Post