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Internet usage is reviewed

September 07, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Five days after The Herald-Mail published a report about Hagerstown's Purchasing Department manager use of his office computer and city e-mail address to buy antiques through the Internet auction site eBay, the city is cracking down on Internet use by employees.

Also, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said Friday that Purchasing Director G. David White's frequent use of eBay from his office was "inconsistent with the city's policy."

That was a change from what Zimmerman said last week, when he said White's actions did not appear to violate the city's Internet use policy.

Zimmerman said that since last week, he has further reviewed White's Internet use.

"I have discussed this matter with Mr. White, and we both agree that his prior use of eBay was inconsistent with the city's policy," Zimmerman said.

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White, who has managed the purchasing department for the last 18 years, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

A press release sent to The Herald-Mail Friday afternoon stated that city employees are now forbidden "the use of eBay or other auction sites..."

"The city will also acquire specialized software that will monitor Internet use, as well as, prohibit access to certain Internet sites," the statement read.

Zimmerman said the software is inexpensive and commonly used elsewhere. The Washington County Board of Education uses such software to block employees and students form accessing inappropriate sites. The eBay site is among those that cannot be accessed from school system computers.

White's use of his office computer and city e-mail address to access eBay was first reported by The Herald-Mail on Sunday.

A search done Aug. 26 on the eBay Web site - www.ebay.com - for White's city e-mail address, gdw01@hagerstownmd.org, showed that White placed bids on 36 items during the previous 30 days.

He bid on items such as old milk bottles, oyster tins and postcards on all seven days of the week at times ranging from 6:15 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thirty-one of his bids were made on weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

The eBay Web site does not document how much time a person spends on the site looking for items.

When asked last week about his use of eBay, White said: "I'm using the city's computer on my time to look at eBay and other sites. I will discontinue the practice because The Herald-Mail doesn't like it. ... I don't think it's a big deal because the city gets 40 plus hours a week out of me. As long as the city gets 40 hours a week out of me they should be happy."

On the eBay auction site, users can look at more than 2.6 million items for sale and bid on the items as one would at a live auction. Users can place bids until a sale deadline, at which time the high bidder has won the right to buy the item.

White's Internet use drew criticism from two of the five City Council members surveyed Monday.

City Council members J. Wallace McClure and Alfred W. Boyer said city equipment including office computers and city e-mail addresses should be used for city business only.

McClure and Boyer suggested changing the city's 2-year-old Internet use policy, which permits use of the city's network, e-mail and city-provided Internet access "for informal or personal purposes ... within reason as determined by the department manager."

The other three council members and Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II did not call for a change in the policy.

Friday, Zimmerman said although new limits have been established, he doesn't plan to amend the policy.

In the statement released Friday, Bruchey was quoted as saying: "I am very pleased with the steps which have been taken. I believe that these steps help to attain a reasonable policy for our staff, assist in management of the Internet system and assure that our responsibilities to the public are met."

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