By BOB PALMER
Jimplecute News Editor
If Sheriff David McKnight had been a county employee rather than an elected official, his famous “Elmer” Facebook post could have resulted in disciplinary action or termination.
According to a copy of the Marion County Employee Manual the Jimplecute obtained through a Texas Public Information Act request, “the use of Marion County information systems, including computers, fax, machines, smart phones, tablet computers and all forms of Internet/Intranet access, is for Marion County business only.”
McKnight originally denied making the satirical post portraying an unkempt homeless man as the county’s new animal control officer, but TPIA requests unearthed text messages from McKnight to Chief Deputy Frank Cason where McKnight admits making the post.
“I was trying to piss of (sic) the shaw bunch,” McKnight said in the text message to Cason.
The employee manual is clear on the subject.
“Electronic communication should not be used to solicit or sell products or services that are unrelated to the County’s business; distract, intimidate, or harass coworkers or third parties; or disrupt the workplace,” the manual states.
The employee handbook warns, “Employees must be aware that the electronic mail messages sent and received using county equipment are not private and are subject to viewing, downloading, inspection, release and archiving by the county.”
The threat of dismissal is repeated.
“Marion County monitors its entire informational systems and employees may be subject to discipline up to and including termination for any misuse of county informational systems,” the policy states.
Sheriff McKnight is an elected official, however, and not an “at-will” employee who can be terminated or reprimanded by a department head.
Rules against misuse of government-owned electronic equipment or private communications devices used for a public purpose are also found in employee manuals for the City of Jefferson and Jefferson Independent School District.
“Employees representing the City government via City social media sites must conduct themselves at all times as a representative of the City and in accordance with all City policies,” the City of Jefferson handbook states.
Guidelines also include prohibitions against “profane, obscene, violent, or pornographic content or language,” as well as, “defamatory or personal attacks.”
The JISD Employee Manual is available on the district’s website. Employees are cautioned about the content of their electronic posts.
“As role models for the district’s students, employees are responsible for their public conduct even when they are not acting as district employees. Employees will be held to the same professional standards in their public use of electronic media as they are for any other public conduct,” the manual states.
“If an employee wishes to use a social network site or similar media for personal purposes, “the employee is responsible for the content on the employee’s page, including content added by the employee, the employee’s friends, or members of the public who can access the employee’s page, and for web links on the employee’s page.”
Although the three manuals vary on specifics, the message is clear that at city, county and schools insulting, abrasive electronic posts are forbidden.
Jefferson Mayor Charles “Bubba” Haggard said the city has never had the need to discipline anyone under these provisions of the employee manual and was not sure how the city would exercise its right to monitor electronic messages.
“We would have to hire a tech person,” Haggard said.
The Jimplecute reached out to County Judge Leward LaFleur and Superintendent Rob Barnwell for comment, but had not received a reply by press time Wednesday.
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