August 8, 2008

Aiken, N. Augusta Make Changes

AIKEN - In the wake of a flap earlier this year over an e-mail exchange, the cities of Aiken and North Augusta have updated their policies on Internet use at work.

In May, a North Augusta resident complained to the city about receiving inappropriate e-mails from a city employee. That led to an examination of all employee e-mail accounts.

At the center of the investigation was a sexual joke sent to North Augusta Public Safety Chief Lee Wetherington and co-workers from an office employee. Chief Wetherington altered the joke and resent the e-mail.

The use of work e-mail accounts to send personal messages is common across the country, and in recent years, organizations and businesses have implemented protocols regarding employee Internet usage.

For about 10 years, the city of Aiken has had a policy that limits employee access to certain Web sites and discourages personal use of e-mail by employees.

"Every year we update what we started with and refine our policy about how much time can be spent on the Web," City Finance Director Anita Lilly said. "Over the years, you learn what you need to do and what needs to be refined."

Internet access and e-mail are necessary to city business. But continuously updated software monitors where employees go on the Internet, and filtering software blocks videos and large attachments sent via e-mail.

"Everyone who has e-mail receives jokes and videos from friends, and many of them are harmless and humorous," Ms. Lilly said. "But some of them can be offensive and should not be a part of the workplace."

Video clips also can contain viruses, and they can slow down legitimate e-mail traffic and take up large amounts of space.

"Some of them are clean, but they maybe take two minutes to watch, and we decided that it was not in the best interest of our employees to allow that to come through," she said, adding the software is flexible and can be adjusted.

On Jan. 1, the city's e-mail addresses changed because inboxes were filling up with spam.

"Dec. 1 to Dec. 31, 2007, we received 22,265,870 e-mails, and of those, 22,230,351 were spam," Ms. Lilly said.

Last month, North Augusta revised its Internet and e-mail policies to allow limited Internet use.

The policy "was relaxed a little bit," said Diana Miller, the city's human resources manager. "Before, it was a little bit too stringent."

However, the policy does not allow the type of e-mails that were sent by city employees in May.

"The main thing is you can't control, necessarily, who sends things to you, but you can control what you do with it," Ms. Miller said. "I think that is the big lesson from all of that."

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or [email protected]

Originally published by Michelle Guffey South Carolina Bureau.

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