Florida Keys News
Saturday, August 9, 2014
State Attorney drops email matter
Candidate: Invitation didn't have district's footer on it

State Attorney Catherine Vogel's office won't pursue a whistleblower's complaint about an email blast sent by a district employee in support of a candidate for public office.

The email was sent at 10:28 a.m. on Wednesday, July 23 by Danny Jimenez, an employee of the Key West High School's IT Department, from his personal email address. However, the list of recipients on the blast raised eyebrows among district watchers this week, as it seems to suggest that Jimenez may have availed himself of the School District's email list. In addition, a footer at the bottom of the document contains the School District's disclaimer, which is automatically inserted into any email sent from a district address.

The email contained an invitation to District 1 School Board candidate Bobby Highsmith's campaign kickoff event later that evening at Tennessee Williams Theatre. Jimenez once coached Highsmith's Key West High School football team, and was a speaker at the event. Jimenez and Highsmith now coach Little League Football together.

School Board Policy 1232 on political activity, and Policy 7540.04 on staff and internet acceptable use and safety, and Policy 7540.05 on electronic mail together prohibit the use of district facilities or equipment for political purposes.

A complaint about the email was lodged with Vogel's office on Wednesday, Aug. 6 by Big Pine Key resident Larry Murray, who describes himself as a "fiscal watchdog and citizen activist" in his email signature.

"The reason I decided to file the complaint, was that I saw the district's disclaimer at the bottom," Murray said. "I was immediately concerned that the district email system was being used for political purposes."

On Friday, State Attorney Vogel said that her office would be dropping the matter.

"We've looked at it and closed it out with no further action," she said. "We can't find any criminal activity. If this violates School Board policy, then that's an issue for them."

At press time Friday, School Board Chairman Ron Martin could not be reached for comment. However, Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter denied that any rule infractions had occurred.

"We do not believe that there was any violation of School Board policy," Porter said. "The email originated outside of the system, and was addressed to district email addresses, which are public knowledge. We do have limitations on what our employees can do, as far as political activity, and personal use of our computer networks, however this was an employee using his personal email address on his own time."

Porter also discussed the matter Friday morning on the Morning Edition with Bill Becker radio program. He was at a loss to explain the existence of the footer on the blast, however.

"I don't know if it was something that was copied from somewhere else," the superintendent said. "I don't have a final report. What I have right now is what [The Citizen] probably have."

Porter did say that he would be "respectfully reminding" all employees of the rules regarding personal use of the district's network and other electronic resources.

Jimenez did not respond to a request for comment, but Highsmith on Friday disavowed knowledge of any wrongdoing.

"I'm not sure exactly where things stand right now," Highsmith said. "Last I heard, there were some questions raised about the email, however the supervisor of elections [Joyce Griffin] said that there had been no election laws broken, and that the School Board had said there had been nothing wrong done by any party. As an attorney, the rule of law is important to me. I would not support any violation of any laws or policies."

Highsmith added that his campaign had sent out the email invitation, but that there had been no district footer on his blast.

"We had sent out an email, but it didn't have the legend at the bottom," Highsmith said. "It was not targeted at district personnel, but rather it was a broad effort on our part. Danny [Jimenez] used his own personal email list. It certainly wasn't a blanket email to everyone in the School District."

tschmida@keysnews.com

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