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E-mail issue
in court

George seeks restraining order to allow him access; Scott changes tune on hard drive

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com 340-2437

The Morgan County e-mail scandal is now in court.

District 4 Commissioner Stacy George filed a petition Wednesday in Circuit Court asking a judge for a restraining order so that he may access public records.

George names Chairman John Glasscock, District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark and Data Processing Manager David Hannah as defendants.

"These were the three people who blocked me from the county's computer server," George said. "The petition is against anyone who would try to stop me from the public records."

He's asking a judge to order all elected officials and employees to immediately make available public electronic records.

Clark told Hannah last week not to allow George access to the main server. As chairman, Glasscock, who is in charge of the records, did not intervene.

George said he is personally paying an attorney to handle the petition. He said he paid the $232 filing fee from personal money.

Some officials say they are concerned about sensitive taxpayer information getting out. However, privacy of taxpayers doesn't appear to be an issue when old county computers are sold on the Internet.

Although data processing employees reformat the hard drives, someone with the right equipment could resurrect information that was once stored on them, according to Hannah.

"If they get the right software, it can be done," said Hannah.

Some Morgan County officials refused to cooperate with an investigation of an e-mail scandal saying that information on their computer hard disk drives is sensitive.

Revenue Commissioner Amanda Scott, Sheriff Greg Bartlett, Board of Registrars Chairwoman Adonis Bailey and former Probate Judge Bobby Day opposed Wade Morgan, a computer forensic specialist, examining their hard drives. They cited sensitive information.

Probe ended Dec. 28

Commissioners Ken Livingston, Kevin Murphy and Clark voted to end the investigation Dec. 28 and opposed George's request to seek a court order to force the officials to turn over the hard drives.

Instead, they authorized Morgan to process information from hard drives of 19 other officials to complete his examination.

Now that the investigation is over, Scott is asking that Morgan check her hard drive and the hard drive of her chief clerk.

Scott had Glasscock put an item on Thursday's meeting agenda asking the commission to pass a resolution to authorize "the retained computer expert to execute an agreement" with her to check her hard drive and the hard drive of her clerk.

Morgan is no longer retained. His work ended two weeks ago.

Glasscock said he realizes the investigation is over, but he honors almost any request for someone to place an item on the agenda.

When denying access to her computer hard drive and her chief clerk's in November, Scott said she was protecting taxpayer information such as credit card numbers. However, you cannot pay taxes by credit card in her office. She locked her hard drive in her office vault and changed the locks on her doors. Scott said she did not want Morgan copying her hard drive and taking it to Birmingham.

Scott was not in her office at mid-afternoon Wednesday. She faxed responses in the evening to written questions left with an employee about why she wants her hard drives examined now, and why she wants to be in charge of that examination.

She said she has always been willing to have her hard drives examined, but did not want Morgan copying the hard drive and taking the data to Birmingham. She said she would have an agreement with Morgan to safeguard sensitive taxpayer information.

Destroy copied data

In Morgan's agreement with the commission, he is to destroy all data copied from county computers Jan. 20.

Hannah said in the past he has replaced old computers throughout the courthouse, including Scott's office. He said sometimes computers were handed down to others in the office, and he sold others on a Web site called GovDeals.

Records show that Hannah sold nine computer monitors and seven personal computer parts, which Hannah said were hard drives, in 2004.

He said he does not remember which offices the computers for that sale came from.

Hannah said he reformatted the hard drives before placing them for sale online.

Ernest Seeman, a computer technician for a Huntsville firm, said recovering information from hard drives is easy.

"All reformatting does is disorganizes information so that the computer cannot easily recognize it." Seeman explained. There's a program called unformat which goes through and looks at data and rebuilds the file allocation table."

The commission will decide whether to allow Scott to enter an agreement with Morgan on Thursday.

Murphy said he is against her request.

"She should have turned her computer over with the rest of them," he said.

George cites 'abuse'

In his petition, George said, "There is reason to believe that certain public officials and employees are abusing the use of county resources by engaging in e-mails of a pornographic nature, running personal businesses from county computers, keeping track of personal assets on county computers as well as other types of abuse of county resources. Such abuse may result in reimbursement to the county General Fund for personal use of taxpayer resources, ethics complaints, and/or criminal charges."

Also on Thursday's commission agenda is this item: "Consider request of one or more individuals to review records contained on Morgan County computers and servers or other media and to determine the procedure, manner and circumstance under which such records will be made available for examination."

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