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Ethics violation raises questions about city laptop policies

Wednesday, March 20, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

DeShawn Scott, a temporary administrative specialist in the Public Works Department, left his position in December after the Office of the City Auditor opened an investigation into Scott’s use of his city computer for purposes related to his two outside businesses: Texas Go Freezee, a shaved ice stand, and Taco Sweets, a truck that offers ice cream tacos.

While the Public Works Department considers his departure to be voluntary rather than a resignation in lieu of termination, the Ethics Review Commission agreed that there were still concerns about the ethical nature of his conduct. At their March 13 meeting, ethics commissioners found Scott to be in violation of city code.

The decision that a violation had occurred was swift following a six-minute presentation by the city auditor. However, things were not so clear-cut when it came to the sanctions that the commissioners wanted to level against Scott.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” said Commissioner J. Michael Ohueri. “The reason that he lost his job is for documents and photographs …. What we have not heard is that he spent time at work doing this.” Ohueri said he was not attempting to justify Scott’s actions, but he was unconvinced that several hundred megabytes of files constituted an egregious violation of city code.

Commissioner Donna Beth McCormick argued that her greatest concern wasn’t the number of files that were on his laptop but Scott’s “cavalier” attitude about the situation.

In his testimony, Scott acknowledged that he had used his city computer for personal tasks because it was more convenient. “Honestly, I never thought I’d be called in … I kind of took advantage of it,” Scott said in an interview with city auditors. Scott offered no further testimony as he did not show up either to the preliminary or final hearings of his case.

Despite the clear intentionality of this misuse, Scott’s case is not unique. Taking advantage of city laptops for non-city work is a common occurrence. Brian Molloy from the city auditor’s office explained that it is the most frequent violation his office encounters.

When asked how the city is deterring employees from using their laptops for unsanctioned purposes, Molloy said that all city employees receive ethics training and that there are certain websites that are barred from use on city servers.

Commissioner Raafia Lari found these measures to be insufficient, saying if this is a common problem and the city has not implemented substantial measures to curtail this behavior, she would have trouble doling out severe punishment for Scott.

At the vote, commissioners recommended a letter of reprimand be put in Scott’s personnel file as punishment for his ethics violation. Commissioners Lari and Ohueri opposed the motion and commissioners Peter Einhorn and Brian Thompson were absent.

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