County investigating vulgar e-mails
March 12, 2002
Beaufort County Council will ask the 14th Circuit solicitor today to investigate allegedly obscene e-mails disseminated by a senior county official.
The move came after Burton resident Tommy O'Brien presented evidence to County Council at its Monday meeting of two e-mail messages containing questionable electronic attachments.
According to computer records, the e-mails were received by Beaufort County Deputy Administrator Buz Boehm in February and then forwarded to other county staff members, including County Administrator John Kachmar.
Boehm has been deputy administrator for two years. Efforts to contact him after the meeting were unsuccessful.
"I am totally outraged that this could happen," O'Brien said. "This is not a one-time event, gentlemen."
Copies of the e-mails and their attachments were obtained Monday by The Gazette.
One attachment, an animated film called "The Piano Man," depicts an unclothed man playing a keyboard-shaped banner with his genitals, in time to music playing in the background.
The other, called "Good Luck Boobs," depicts a pair of female breasts.
The chain-letter-type message encourages each receiver to forward it to eight other people for good luck.
O'Brien gave copies of both e-mails to County Council Chairman Tom Taylor.
Taylor first asked Kachmar to investigate the issue, but then said he didn't want to give the "appearance of impropriety," considering that the administrator himself might be involved in the incident.
After council met in closed session to discuss the issue, Taylor confirmed that he would have Kachmar investigate the involvement of other county personnel in the matter.
By county ordinance, the administrator is the only person who can look into personnel matters involving county employees.
The council can only deal with matters relating to Kachmar himself.
But Taylor said he would forward the evidence to 14th Circuit Solicitor Randolph Murdaugh III to see if there was a "violation of criminal codes."
If Murdaugh determines no laws were broken, it will remain a personnel issue and will be handled by County Council and Kachmar, Taylor said.
According to the county's computer policy, which must be signed by all employees with access to computers, users "may not access the Internet to disseminate sexually explicit, sexually suggestive (obscene or pornographic) or illegal material in any facility operated under the auspices of Beaufort County Council."
Taylor said he also would consult the county's personnel attorneys to investigate possible sexual harassment violations.
Sheldon resident Wendy Zara commented on the sexual harassment issue after O'Brien discussed the two e-mails.
"When that type of behavior exists and is condoned on the senior level, it creates a hostile environment for all women in Beaufort County," she said.
O'Brien said he discovered the e-mails while investigating Boehm's use of a county vehicle to travel back and forth to his residence in Mount Pleasant.
Kachmar confirmed that Boehm does use a vehicle for that purpose, but said it is not against county policy, which prompted a rebuttal from Councilman Bill McBride.
"Just because it's permissible doesn't mean it's good judgment," McBride said.
Taylor directed county staff to review the policy on the use of county vehicles.
"We believe this policy was developed administratively" and was not approved by council, Taylor said.
"A brief review shows there was some ambiguity," he said.
Rob Gioielli can be reached at 986-5529.
By ROB GIOIELLI, Gazette staff writer. Copyright © 2002 The Beaufort Gazette