Galveston County employee Internet usage under scrutiny

September 6, 2011 3:59:09 PM PDT
Almost all of us are guilty of doing it -- shopping online or checking Facebook at work -- but for Galveston County employees, if you're caught such things, it could one day mean serious consequences.

Galveston City Council Member Chris Gonzales hasn't returned our phone call for comment. Gonzales was elected to office last year. He had issues with the police chief at the time, who is suing him. As part of that lawsuit, requested copies of emails from Gonzalez's job in Galveston County's IT department. Last week Gonzales was fired from his county job.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry explained, "The county policy allows for a small, I believe it is a minimal and incidental amount of personal use. The county legal department and attorney did not determine this was small and incidental -- in fact, it was the majority."

According to the county judge, some 42,000 emails were recovered from Gonzales's county computer dating back 16 months. The county notice to Gonzales claims he used his work computer to communicate political matters, plan social gatherings, conduct outside business and personal business transactions, and register with dating websites. Some of the emails, the letter claims, contained offensive images and language.

On Tuesday county commissioners met in executive session to discuss email and Internet policy. Like a lot of agencies and businesses, the county IT system has firewalls and blocked sites. What this investigation has revealed, the judge says, is that sometimes those safeguards have been lifted by some IT employees.

"We don't think it was a loose ship. We think it was one friend helping out another friend, but without department head knowledge or approval," Judge Henry said. "Those people will be looked at."

That investigation is underway. The county judge doesn't believe any criminal violations took place in the case of Gonzales. He also says that Gonzales has filed a grievance involving his termination.

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