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White Internet use of eBay OK

September 10, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

A Hagerstown city supervisor has been using his office computer and city e-mail address to bid on or buy antiques through a popular Internet auction site over the past 14 months, sometimes during work hours.

Purchasing Department Director G. David White confirmed Thursday that he has been accessing the "eBay" site and other Internet sites before, during and after work hours.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said based on what White told him, White has not violated the city's policy on Internet use at work.

The city's policy, adopted June 2, 1997, states: "The City's network, e-mail and City provided Internet access is intended to be for City use only; use for informal or personal purposes is permissible within reason as determined by the department manager."

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Personal use of the Internet on government-owned equipment is not allowed by the Washington County government or by the county Board of Education, according to their policies.

Zimmerman said he discussed the situation Thursday with White, who is a department manager, and said White told him he had been using eBay for the past 14 months on a "limited basis."

"It wasn't a daily use level that he described to me," Zimmerman said.

White said all of his activity on the Internet site was "strictly personal" and that no city funds were involved.

"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," White said.

A Herald-Mail reporter asked White about his Internet use after getting an anonymous complaint from a caller three weeks ago.

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 purchase the item.

Key word searches on eBay for White's city-issued e-mail address, gdw01@hagerstownmd.org, showed that White visited the site at least 70 times since April. Not all activity prior to the last 30 days was accessible.

According to eBay records found by searching the site, in the last 30 days, White placed bids on 36 items, including two bids that were placed Thursday morning at 8:45 a.m. and 8:52 a.m.

White said his regular work hours are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. He said he gets two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute lunch break.

Since April 7, White has purchased or been the high bidder on 45 items, typically, old milk bottles, oyster tins and old postcards or photographs.

White has entered bids on items 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.

Zimmerman declined to comment on the eBay figures provided by The Herald-Mail.

A search of e-mail addresses for other city department managers turned up nothing.

White said he did not keep a log of the time he has spent on the site.

White said he is often in his office late at night and on the weekends. He said he does not have a computer at his home.

Zimmerman said White does not have to stop using the Internet for personal use since the city policy allows such use within reason.

"Dave emphasized and I agree that Dave puts in extra hours and there are times when people have to take time for personal needs," Zimmerman said. "Dave's had a good career with the city and I trust his judgment."

"Employees need to follow the policy ... (and) use good judgment," he said. "I don't see it as a violation of policy. That doesn't mean we can't limit use (of the Internet.)"

Zimmerman said the matter was not affecting White's job performance.

White has been the head of the purchasing department for 18 years. He is responsible for most of the purchasing done by the city, overseeing the office supply inventory and administering claims for property and casualty insurance.

Elsewhere in Washington County government, employees are prohibited from using computer equipment for personal use.

The school system's policy reads: "Access will be provided for school related academic activities only."

Bill McKinley, the school system executive director of support services, said there have not been any incidents of employees violating the policy, which was adopted Aug. 13, 1996.

Betsy Klein, the school systems' director of technology, said they use special software to block access to inappropriate Internet sites and categories of Internet sites considered unnecessary for educational purposes.

The eBay site is among the sites school system employees are blocked from accessing because it deals with marketing and selling items, Klein said.

Under the Washington County Internet policy, it is unacceptable to use the Internet "for financial gain or for any private, commercial or illegal activity."

Alan J. Davis, Washington County Human Resources director, said the county computer systems department conducts random tests of Internet use on county computers to monitor and make sure employees are complying with its policies.

Davis said there has never been a problem.

Davis added that periodically, if an employee while on their lunch hour or during a break were to use a county computer to look up the price of a car, that would be OK.

"We would not encourage it, but as long as it was not interfering with their work we wouldn't take any action," he said.

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