Memo: Watch those emails

Just a few months ago the chief of police of Portland, Derrick Foxworth, was demoted (and is now at legal war with the city) and generated a local firestorm over a sexual relationship with a female member of the force. Actually, to put it more finely, the firestorm erupted from a batch of emails between them, mainly his to her, which became the subject of withering public discussion for weeks.

Bill Douglas
Bill Douglas

One obvious lesson in this: if you’re working in a public agency, watch those emails, especially any centering around personal relationships and most especially any with sexual component – those last are PR lighter fluid.

Just that has embroiled another public official, Kootenai County (Idaho) Prosecutor Bill Douglas, who neither sent nor received the mails but presides over the office where it happened.

The key emailer was Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rick Baughman, who has been accused of sexual harassment and who, according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, sent a number of sexually explicit emails (reported at about 50) to them, some with graphic attachments. Evidently at least one of the women reciprocated.

There is, of course, much more. Most of today’s SR blog Huckleberries Online, the Dave Oliveria blog, is given over to it. Text of some of the offending emails may appear online soon, courtesy of the Spokesman. Baughman has been interviewed, to not much useful effect; most of his rebuttal was along the lines of (and this is a quote), “At some point you have to draw the line. How many times do my kids have to undergo the torments of their friends just so you can sell a newspaper.” (Leaving aside, of course, any comment about his own actions, only commenting on his distress on having been found out.)

That will probably plug the dike about as long as his boss’ comment that the whole story is simply “a distraction.” That distraction is already prompting people like Oliveria to pull up the numbers of signatures needed to force a recall, and to speculate about resignation.

Likely, this will play out ugly. We’ve been there before. So has the Spokesman (you do remember Jim West, the recalled mayor?). And so has Derrick Foxworth.

And eventually, we’ll get used to the reality, for good or ill, that emails cannot be relied upon to remain as private communications.

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