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THURSDAY, JANUARY 11, 2007
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E-mail controversy not dead yet; disk goes to jail

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com 340-2437

A disk containing information from all county computers reportedly is in the custody of Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett.

Bartlett was one of four county officials who did not cooperate with a forensic investigation into inappropriate e-mails sent from county computers. The County Commission authorized the investigation after a sexually charged e-mail surfaced in November.

David Hannah, who is in charge of the county's main computer server, reportedly took a copy of the system's back-up disk to the county jail for safekeeping Wednesday.

District 4 Commissioner Stacy George said Hannah told him that he decided to take the disk to the jail after talking with District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark.

"He (Hannah) told me that he recommended to Jeff that he take the disk there and Jeff agreed," George said.

George said Hannah said it would be in his department's best interest to put the disk at the jail.

Clark said Hannah asked what he thought about taking the disk to the jail. He said he told Hannah to do what he thought best to secure the material.

Hannah refused to answer questions.

Bartlett did not return a telephone call.

And you thought Morgan County's e-mail controversy was over?

Wrong.

Here's what happened Wednesday:

The action started about 9:30 a.m. George went to the courthouse expecting to have a computer connected to the server for him to review e-mails, which are public records.

Instead, Hannah told George he would have the computer set up for him by the afternoon.

In the interim, Hannah contacted Clark, who then called District 2 Commissioner Ken Livingston and District 3 Commissioner Kevin Murphy.

Clark said he got a consensus of the commissioners to stop George from looking at the e-mails on the server.

Alabama's open meetings law prohibits telephone polls and consensus votes.

Clark said he called County Attorney Bill Shinn and asked for advice.

Shinn wrote a letter to each commissioner and the chairman, stating:

"I recommend that the Morgan County Commission consider at its meeting of Jan. 18, 2007, whether or not, and under what safeguards, the requested information is to be produced and that none of such information be produced until the full commission can consider any such request and rule on the same."

Public records

Alabama law says any citizen can inspect and take a copy of any public record. Electronic records are treated the same as written documents.

Livingston said Clark called and told him about George and Hannah. Livingston then called Hannah and told him that he agreed with Clark about not allowing George to look at the public information. Livingston said he knows he cannot stop George from viewing public information.

He said he did not give a consensus vote to stop George from viewing information.

Repeated phone calls to Murphy went unanswered.

The flurry of phone calls and activity apparently ended when the courthouse closed.

George said Hannah told him he would have the computer set up to view the server e-mails Thursday.

Wednesday's events began less than 24 hours after Clark, Livingston and Murphy opposed extending the investigation to allow a computer expert to examine e-mails on the server.

The expert's final report found sexually explicit e-mails on commission Chairman John Glasscock's and ex-human resources director Jack Underwood's computer hard drives.

Nothing was found on the hard drives of 17 other elected officials, political appointees and department heads.

George's motion at Tuesday's meeting to extend the probe would have allowed the expert to look at e-mails of Bartlett, Revenue Commissioner Amanda Scott, Board of Registrars Chairwoman Adonis Bailey and Probate Judge Bobby Day. All said they had sensitive information on their computers.

The tug-of-war over the back-up disk now in the sheriff's custody began after Tuesday's meeting where Clark became chairman pro tem.

As pro tem, however, Clark presides over the commission only in the chairman's absence. When the investigation ended, Glasscock, who had recused himself, returned as presiding officer.

Clark left a message on George's cellular phone telling him that he had Hannah take the disk from an office where George had it locked in a safe.

He also gave George this order: "If you have any keys to any of the offices, turn them back into Syble (Atkins)." Atkins is the county administrator.

Clark said his action was prompted by a statement he heard George make after Tuesday's meeting.

"I overheard Stacy make the comment to someone after the meeting that he was going to get the (e-mail) information regardless if the commission voted to or not," Clark said. "That's what prompted me to tell David Hannah to put it (main server disk) back where it was and to lock it up until we as a commission voted to review it."

When George was chairman pro tem, the commission placed him in charge of the investigation because Glasscock had recused himself.

'Not about power plays'

"I'm not about power plays," George said Wednesday. "But, as a county commissioner I don't answer to another commissioner. We were both elected by the people, and all I'm doing is trying to do what the people want."

Clark said George should not look at information on the server without commission approval.

"His role as commissioner does not entitle him to have control of the server information," Clark said.

George said that in his role as county commissioner, his right to access information is the same as Clark's.

"Not just me or him, the citizens of this county have a right to review these public records," said George.

Clark said he was not covering up anything for anyone, but he was not going to let George "bully" people.

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