Pornography Claims Rock County

FAIRFIELD – Recent revelations that the state’s highest law enforcement office had opened a file on allegations of computer abuse in the County Administrator’s office have put the County head under a microscope and may force County Council to reevaluate its computer use policies and how those policies are applied.

According to documents obtained from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) through a Freedom of Information Act request, SLED opened a case file on Feb. 5 after it was alleged to their office that County Administrator Phil Hinely had been “disseminating pornography to a number of people via the Fairfield County computer system.” The photos associated with these alleged emails were viewed by Doug Barfield, the Sixth Circuit Solicitor, “and his opinion was that (the) images were not illegal,” SLED’s documents state. SLED closed the case on Feb. 21 and reported the matter to David Ferguson, Chairman of Fairfield County Council. Ferguson said he then brought the matter to the full Council at their Feb. 25 work session, but no action was taken.

“The resolution that night (Feb. 25) was to wait and see what the whole truth was,” Ferguson said. “I don’t jump to conclusions. I like to get the truth before I make a decision about someone’s life.”

Responding to questions about the depth of SLED’s involvement in the case, Thom Berry, a spokesperson for the agency, told The Voice last week that SLED did not interview Hinely, nor did SLED examine Hinely’s County computer when looking into the matter.

“We met with someone who provided our agency with the emails,” Berry said. “The emails were reviewed by our agents and with the Solicitor’s Office. As the images were of individuals over the age of 18, there was no violation of criminal law. SLED did not conduct an investigation.”

“At the time, I thought SLED had conducted an investigation,” Councilman Kamau Marcharia said. “It may not be illegal, but there may be a moral issue.”

In addition to the case status report, which marks the case as “closed unless additional information is received,” the SLED documents pertaining to the matter include a screen shot of an email in-box that appears to show 18 emails sent from Hinely’s address between July 27 and Dec. 12, 2010 to an unidentified individual. Also in the documents are three of the alleged emails in full, in a PowerPoint format, and all bearing a date of Feb. 1, 2013 – just four days before SLED opened its case file – in the upper right-hand corner. These alleged emails contain nude and partially nude women in various suggestive poses.

Hinely said that during that six-month period in 2010 he did forward several emails containing inappropriate material, but that it was not a violation of County policy and that he hasn’t done so since. He also said he had never seen the alleged emails contained in the SLED documents.

“I do not recall ever having seen these before,” Hinely said after reviewing the SLED file. “These are in PowerPoint. I don’t even know how to use PowerPoint. None of these came from me.”

Hinely said he never solicited inappropriate emails and only forwarded such emails to people who had sent him similar emails in the past. He ended that practice, he said, long before it ever came to the attention of SLED.

“About three years ago, for a short period of time, I forwarded single pictures and jokes that would be considered R-rated,” Hinely said. “Then I thought I didn’t need to be doing that and I quit doing it.”

Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson said she had heard about the emails before the Chairman brought it to Council.

“I was not shocked, because I had heard rumors,” Robinson said. “It’s a sad day for Fairfield. I have received many emails from people who are so embarrassed over this.”

Robinson said she had not seen the alleged emails herself, but would like the opportunity to view them before making any decisions about what course of action to take.

Hinely said the County’s policy regarding computer use dates back to 2008 and has evolved over time. It was originally devised to prohibit employees from downloading music and listening to podcasts while at work, which consumes a great deal of bandwidth and slows down internet use across all County computers. The policy has evolved to cover downloading offensive material, but Hinely said he never downloaded anything, only forwarded emails, which would not have been a policy violation. As a contract employee of the Council, Hinely is not directly covered by the County’s employee policies, but that may change.

Wednesday night, after The Voice went to press, Council held a work session to discuss the County’s employment policies.

“Council is going to have to make a decision,” Ferguson said. “It’s all going to come to a resolution Wednesday night.”

Hinely said he welcomed the potential of coming under the regular employee policies, but noted that such a move might present certain difficulties.

“Some things in the policy might conflict with my contract,” Hinely said.

County vehicle use, work hours and pay step increases, for example, which apply to regular employees, would not be applicable to certain contract employees, Hinely said.

“I’ve always acted as if I were covered by the County’s policies,” Hinely said, “but Council will have to officially put me under those policies.”

Had it been discovered that a regular, non-contract employee had been forwarding offensive emails, Hinely said, the County would have told them to stop.

“I was not downloading stuff from the Web, and that’s really what the policy was all about,” Hinely said. “Did I get some emails and forward them to people? Yes. Were they pornography? No. I am not a pornographer. I’m not surfing the Web and downloading porn.”

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