Scandal Reveals Questions, Failures

After weeks of turmoil and months of rumor and speculation, Fairfield’s County Administrator has resigned. May he find better fortune on his journey and in his future endeavors. For whatever his faults may have been, his record of openness (with the local media, at least) is beyond reproach. In his nearly 12 years in the County’s captain’s chair, he took Fairfield from a lawless, Wild West of a place to a County with updated policies and codes. Did he rub some people the wrong way? Undoubtedly. But no one in a position of authority doesn’t if they are doing their job correctly.

The Administrator’s decision to resign just as a pair of investigations – one by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and one by the Council – were underway that could have cleared him from the swirling firestorm of accusations that he used his County email address to disseminate pornographic images does not look good. Our efforts to reach the former Administrator, with whom there has long been an open avenue of discourse, have been unsuccessful in recent days, and that also does not look good.

There are a number of things that do not look good about this scandal, a number of unanswered questions and a number of institutional failures.

When SLED was first made aware of these allegations, and presented with alleged copies of the emails in February, they did not, by their own account, conduct any type of investigation before closing the case. Why, after closing the case, did they then turn over their files to the Council Chairman? It would seem that protocol would dictate those files might be turned over to the individual who had made the original complaint, but why turn those items over to the immediate supervisor of the person accused in the complaint? Why, if no criminal activity was determined in the original complaint, did SLED last week launch a full-blown investigation into the matter? It can often take SLED, which is inundated with actual criminal cases to navigate, months to pool the resources to undertake a proper investigation. It is astonishing, then, how quickly they reacted to something that was, by their own account, not criminal.

SLED is not entertaining any questions on the matter, so until the current investigation is closed answers will not be forthcoming, if even then.

Council must also take some responsibility for how this entire matter was handled. When the Chairman was made aware of the allegations in late February the Council should have immediately brought in an independent agency, a private IT group, to thoroughly investigate. The Administrator’s hard drive should have been seized on the spot and analyzed. Instead, they waited until the flames of dissent had enveloped both floors of their Administrator’s metaphorical house, forcing him to jump from the roof when he could have walked out the front door.

Finally, this newspaper also failed in its duty to educate its readers on the facts of the case as it was unfolding, and for that an apology is in order. Instead of waiting in silence for weeks, we should have been educating the public, informing them that, A) None of the material in the original SLED file had been verified or authenticated by anyone, including SLED; B) That none of that alleged material had been linked, nor had any agency made any effort to establish such a link, to the Administrator’s computer or email account; and C) That, until June 27, there had been no investigation by anyone, including SLED, into these alleged emails. While we debated internally on what our editorial position should be, the public raged, assailing the Council and the County Administrator for weeks with unsubstantiated rumors, incomplete data, uninvestigated accusations and, in some cases, blatant falsehoods. The public, armed with the information they had, cannot be entirely faulted for their anger. It was our responsibility to arm them properly with all the actual facts, and we did not adequately do so.

The investigations are still ongoing, and it is hoped that they will proceed to their fruition in spite of the absence of the accused. The findings may indeed condemn the former Administrator, in which case he has already taken the bus out of town and in a few years’ time will be nothing more than a bad memory for Fairfield County. The findings may also condemn County Council for failure to properly supervise one of its two employees, in which case they should be held accountable by the voters. But the findings may also exonerate all of the above. And in that case, Fairfield County has got some soul searching to do for condemning an individual in advance of the facts. This newspaper, also, should reevaluate its position of taking no position for too long.

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