Town mulls computer policy in wake of Rothaar investigation

Department heads and non-union employees in Riverhead Town may soon be subjected to a new policy restricting the use of town computers, fax machines and other equipment to town business only.

The proposed policy comes at a time when the town has been investigating use of town equipment for personal purposes by employees in the town accounting department — an accusation at least one Town Board member has said involves Bill Rothaar, who heads that department.

The town already has a similar policy in place for unionized employees, although that policy was the subject of negotiation with the union and is part of its contract, officials said. Department heads have individual contracts.

Deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti discussed the proposed policy with the Town Board at its work session Thursday.
“This is a proposed automation systems policy, which would cover computers, fax machines and telephones for non-union employees,” she said.

Councilman Jodi Giglio said the supervisor had asked her to work on the proposed policy along with Ms. Prudenti.
“This is what we came up with,” Ms. Giglio said. “We want to run it by the board to see if there is anything you want added in or taken out.”

The proposed policy gives the board the authority to fire employees for breach of the policy. It prohibits employees from using town equipment to conduct private businesses, from engaging in illegal activities or from sending abusive, profane, threatening, racist, sexist or otherwise objectionable messages.

The proposal also prohibits employees from accessing social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, on town equipment.
It would be up to department heads to police employee compliance with the regulations, and it would be up to the Town Board to monitor whether department heads are complying, Ms. Prudenti said.

“This is just the first part of it and the second part would be a code of conduct, which the department heads would sign,” Ms. Giglio said.

Councilman Jim Wooten asked how department heads would know if an employee was violating the policy.

“I would think you would know either if they are not generating the work or they are generating it at a slow pace that you find unacceptable, or you catch them,” she said.

“It can also be complaint-driven,” Ms. Giglio said.

The proposal does allow incidental use of town equipment for non-town purposes, she said.

“Let’s say they have to fax something to a doctor’s office or to a school on behalf of their child,” she said. “The town may not want the employee to leave their post for the hour to either drive the document over, so they could continue working at their desk, and simply use the [town] fax machine to send it.”

The proposal says such incidental use is permitted, so long as it is “not excessive or inappropriate, occurs during personal time, such as lunch or other breaks, and does not result in expense to the Town of Riverhead,” Ms. Giglio said.

It defines personal business as “profit or nonprofit activities related to sale or trade of goods, ideas, services to consumers or other business for personal gain, interest or profit,” Ms. Giglio said.

Councilman George Gabrielsen didn’t like the argument that someone might fax something from town equipment rather than take time off to deliver it personally.

“It’s the taxpayer’s dollar. I can’t leave; I work 35 hours a week. But there’s people in the private sector next door that work 60 hours a week, let’s let them use it, too,” he said facetiously. “It’s an exaggeration, but how do you justify that?”

“Because it specifically states that the use cannot be an expense to the town,” Ms. Prudenti said.

“Well, anything would be an expense,” Mr. Gabrielsen responded.

Ms. Prudenti said she believes once board members read through the entire proposal, they will be satisfied.

“And if not, I’ll be happy to address it or refine it more for you,” she said.

“There comes point in time when the Town Board has to have confidence in the non-union employees that you have appointed to the various positions … and to the point you’re not satisfied, you have a way to address this,” she added.

The board plans to review the proposal further before acting on it.

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