KING COUNTY OFFICIALS say they'll discipline a Kingdome worker who sent and received controversial e-mail containing sexist, racist jokes and arranged golf outings, dates, and dinners on taxpayer time. But the incident has left some employees puzzled by the inconsistent application of county electronic mail policies.
The Kingdome worker received and passed along dozens of jokes and comments in the past five months that some may find tasteless and others deem funny (see Quick & Dirty, 7/23). Some of them were certainly more sexually explicit and potentially offensive than the e-mailed "Instruction and Advice for the Young Bride" that got its sender, then-King County ombudsman David Krull, fired in 1996. (A typical semi-racy passage: "Most men are rather perverted and if given half a chance would engage in quite a variety of the most revolting practices.") In January, King County Executive Ron Sims, who backed Krull's dismissal, surprised everyone by approving a $450,000 payment to settle his claim of wrongful discharge.
Both Krull's single e-mailing and the Kingdome worker's messages were intended for a select few, but the Kingdome mail was extensive and included questionable jokes about minorities and gays. Wasn't this a more egregious situation than the one that led to Krull's firing? we asked Sims last week. He wouldn't say, other than to note, "There is an existing policy regarding the appropriate use of the county e-mail system. It was in place before the ombudsman matter." Because the content of his e-mail violated those rules, the Kingdome worker will be reprimanded, says a Kingdome official. But his case differs from Krull's (launched by a co-worker's complaint) because no one complained to them, officials say. The messages were unearthed and provided to the media by activist John Hoffman during a public-disclosure search.
That situation leaves some employees mystified by the county's policies. "Gauging by what I've seen around the office and in county cyberspace," says a courthouse worker, "they could probably reprimand the whole lot of us. Everyone goofs off a little now and then. It's human nature." But County Council member Brian Derdowski says there's really only one rule public employees have to follow: "If you're ashamed to see your e-mail on the morning news, don't send it."