Mesa punishes workers in e-mail scandal - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa punishes workers in e-mail scandal

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Posted: Saturday, March 18, 2006 5:13 am | Updated: 4:52 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Mesa employees forwarded hundreds of e-mail images and jokes over the past year that included racial, ethnic and religious slurs, sexually explicit acts, violent photos and foul language.

The city’s ongoing internal investigation has resulted in more than 100 unpaid suspensions, with the majority ranging from between two and five days. The most severe punishment — six-week suspensions — were given to three employees for sending photos with graphic sex acts.

Photos included many topless women, candid nude shots, toddlers wearing shirts with sexual phrases, and a retarded Burger King employee.

E-mailed video segments included numerous sexually suggestive images, a man picking up day laborers and dropping them off at the immigration office, and violence against Middle Eastern people, according to Mesa’s descriptions.

E-mails were forwarded throughout most city departments. Nearly 20 percent, or 82 of the 440 fire department members, have been disciplined. That number could rise if pending fire department cases result in discipline.

“We do take this very seriously, everyone that is disciplined is taking responsibility,” Mesa assistant fire chief Mary Cameli said. “I think this is a good eye-opener and a reminder all our e-mails are public record.”

The city released 229 employee names and their emails Friday following a Tribune public records request. The city first announced the e-mail investigation Feb. 17. The police department is conducting its own e-mail investigation that’s expected to be completed within two weeks. Those e -mails were not released Friday because the investigation is ongoing, Mesa City Attorney Debbie Spinner said.

The employees who received the most severe punishment were financial services supplies specialist Troy Blackwelder, senior gas engineer Scot Sherwood and water district crew leader Eddie Gollihar. Attempts to reach the employees were unsuccessful.

The city developed its own severity rankings to determine discipline. The most severe was a video or images of sex acts.

The next level was videos or pictures of nudity with sexual content, followed by nudity without sexual content, discriminatory images or jokes, offensive cartoons, jokes or language and finally excessive personal use of the system. Nudity or sexual content resulted in up to a five-day suspension. Punishment for discriminatory e-mails ranged from a written reprimand to a three-day suspension. Spinner said the suspensions were recommended by department managers and can be appealed by employees.

Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said the investigators were concerned about the racial and religious discriminatory messages that were dominated by Hispanic and Islamic references, but also included jabs at Mormons and Italians. Brady said these employees will likely be required to undergo sensitivity training.

“We are really concerned about that and the message given is that is absolutely unacceptable,” Brady said.

Brady, who was not working for Mesa when the investigation began, said last month there were about 300 offenders. Brady said Friday that number includes some, but not all, of the police department employees under investigation. Three hundred employees would represent about 8 percent of the work force.

Earlier this week, all city employees were provided a copy of the new e-mail policy that must be signed by April 7, and then again at each annual review. “City employees using city-provided equipment and software have no expectation of privacy in the use of these tools,” the policy states.

The internal investigation began in October after an employee filed a sexual harassment claim against a co-worker. As part of that investigation, e-mails were reviewed. Human resources investigators then followed the e-mail trail citywide.

Breakdown by department

Here is how the 229 employees in the Mesa e-mail investigation break down by department:

• Fire department, 82

• Utilities, 49

• Financial services, 33

• Development services, 26

• General services, 19

• City attorney’s office, 15

• City manager’s office, 3

• Neighborhood services, 2

NOTE: Results of the police department investigation have not been announced.

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