City clerk caught using city email to pass along racist jokes

Peoria City Clerk Mary Haynes used her official city email address to forward a racially insensitive email to a Florida official.

The Coastal Star, a newspaper with an online community-based Web site, reported that a Highland Beach town clerk was suspended for sending “sexually oriented or defamatory” emails, one referring to President Obama with “the N-word.” This email particular did not involve Haynes, but the article states:

“Another e-mail, about a ‘Texas girl’ who shoots a Mexican and an Arab at a bar because her state has ‘so many illegal aliens,’ was sent to [Town Clerk Beverly] Brown by Mary Haynes, city clerk of Peoria, Ill. Brown and Haynes won Quill awards from the International Institute of Municipal Clerks, which certified them both as Master Clerks.

IIMC members sign a Code of Ethics promising that ‘the affairs of my office shall be above reproach’ and ‘to so conduct my public and private life as to be an example to my fellow citizens.’’

In an email, reporter Steve Plunkett says that the email from account to Brown’s account at 10:08 a.m. May 21. It was forwarded on by Brown three minutes later. It was sent to Haynes by  Plunkett did not try to identify this person.

Haynes apologized for the incident.

“I don’t recall the specific incident, but evidently at some point in time I did forward what seemed like a joke, but may have been offensive to some. As I said, I regret offending anyone and have taken measures to ask people sending private email to utilize my home email account.”

City Attorney Randall Ray replied to a question about the city policy and the legality of private emails on the city system by forwarding a copy of the city policy.

That policy would seem to allow passing along “joke” emails, but is less clear about that might be considered racially insensitive or even racist:

“The email system is intended for business use only. The City owns the email system and messages that are sent, created, or received using the system remain the property of the City. However, incidental and occasional personal use of the electronic or voice mail is permitted within reason. Such incidental and occasional use must not interfere with your and others ability to perform job duties. While the City does not intend to regularly review employees electronic or voice mail records, employees have no right or expectation of privacy in electronic or voice mail.

“It is a violation of City policy for an employee to:

• Retrieve or read any email without authorization.

• Solicit others, whether for a charitable, personal or non-City business purpose.

• Send electronic mail messages containing illegal, offensive or disruptive messages.

• Any inappropriate messages received should be promptly reported to the appropriate authority or deleted and not disseminated.”

I have been trying to obtain a copy of the email in question.

However, it sounds similar to one that caused a GOP gubernatorial candidate in New Mexico to discipline a subordinate in June:

The e-mail, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press, is one of those oft-forwarded jokes, this one describing a New Mexico girl shooting a Mexican and an Arab in a bar and then saying, “In New Mexico, we have so many illegal aliens we don’t have to drink with the same ones twice.” The e-mail ends with this line: “God bless New Mexico and that particular New Mexican girl.”

Generally speaking, sentiment of the joke of that killing Arabs and Mexicans is laudable behavior because of the large number of illegal aliens in New Mexico.

My two cents: Mary Haynes is an elected official. She is not an office worker who can be disciplined for violating city policy and it’s not even clear this is a violation of the policy. A Republican, she is up for e-election in two years.

But would this cause her to lose votes, if she runs again? Several ardent Democrats and liberals who have looked at this incident seem disinclined to criticize, citing the fact that it happened many months ago and it was meant to be humorous.

I’m thinking if these folks were Arabic or Mexican, they might be less forgiving.

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