Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"University of Washington Law Dean Subject of Ethics Complaint"

From a December 11 Associated Press story:
The University of Washington Law School dean is facing an ethics complaint over his use of school time and computers for e-mail relating to his work as a State Farm Insurance board member.

W.H. "Joe" Knight Jr. could be fined as much as $5,000 per violation if the state Executive Ethics Board upholds the complaint, the panel's executive director, Susan Harris, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

According to the complaint, Knight sent or received nearly 400 e-mails on his university account from 2002 to 2005 involving his work as legal affairs committee chairman for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Knight said Thursday he received a copy of the complaint this week. It was filed earlier in the fall by Molly Kenny, a lawyer for someone she would not identify, explaining that Knight "has the discretion to deprive" that person of "income from a well-remunerated position at the university."

University spokesman Norman G. Arkans said school officials learned of the issue following a public records request about a year ago and decided Knight was violating a state ban on the use of public resources for business purposes.

"We informed Dean Knight that he had to stop doing it, which he did," Arkans said, adding that Knight was not penalized.

The university will cooperate with the ethics board if there is an investigation, he added.

Knight told the newspaper that until last year, he thought his use of university e-mail fell within exceptions that allow for some personal use of computers as long as it is not overwhelming and does not interfere with one's job.

"When people complained, I stopped it," he said.

Knight said he does State Farm work from home and on weekends and attends board meetings eight days a year, all Sundays and Mondays.

He joined the university in 2001 after serving as vice provost and law professor at the University of Iowa, currently earns $251,580 a year and is in the midst of a routine five-year review which is unrelated to the complaint, Arkans said.

A spokeswoman for State Farm would not disclose how much Knight receives for his board work.

The ethics board has a backlog of about 60 cases and probably won't look into the matter for a couple of months, Harris said.

Anyone can file an ethics complaint against a state employee, and the panel receives 80 to 100 a year, mostly involving the use of computer equipment and e-mail, she said.
Huh. So a dean of a university can't use taxpayer-funded computer resources for private benefit or gain, including political or campaign activities. Wow. If anyone knows a dean (or other state employee) that does that, please contact the Executive Ethics Board and file a complaint.


Bruce Heimbigner said...

It isn't just private (business) benefit or political use. It is ANY OUTSIDE organization including otherwise deserving non-profit organizations. This law is broken routinely on the WSU campus. de minimus personal use IS allowed but de minimus private is NOT allowed.

Bruce Heimbigner said...

I have a collection of email messages that break the law. Typically, when I point out to the sender that the message is not allowed I get a reply from them that their activity is allowed. I then reply and quote the law, and cc the Internal Audit Director. They usually find the loophole, that says it is OK if the activity has been appoved by an agency designee and send me a message saying the activity has been approved, of course this is all after the fact, and no way for me to prove otherwise.