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County worker fired for making online comment

TNS Regional News • May 7, 2013 at 3:07 PM

The Summit County Board of Elections fired a longtime employee Monday after he wrote an anonymous comment on the Beacon Journal’s website saying he hoped a judge and prosecutor would be the next victims of an accused killer.

Andrew Wright, a Republican who worked on campaign finance reports, was identified as the author following an investigation by both the sheriff and prosecutor.

No criminal charges were filed in the case.

The one-sentence comment was made on Ohio.com in January under the name “DeathByAkron.” It was posted on a story about an Akron man acquitted by a jury of murder and targeted Democratic Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands and county Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh.

“Rowlands and Bevan Walsh hopefully they will be the victims of this guy the next time,” Wright wrote.

The elections board made its decision after meeting in a closed-door session that lasted an hour and 45 minutes.

When the board reconvened, Ray Weber, a Republican board member, made two motions: to adopt a new, stricter Internet-use policy and to fire Wright, who is the brother of Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty.

The board unanimously approved both motions.

Weber suggested the board terminate Wright, who didn’t attend the meeting, for “bringing embarrassment to the board.”

Wright, whose annual salary was $50,003, had worked at the board since March 2004. He could not be located for comment, and the board declined to release contact information for him. The sheriff’s office and prosecutor’s office launched an investigation after Rowlands complained about the comment.

Authorities issued a subpoena to the Beacon Journal and Disqus.com, the California company that handles the Ohio.com online comment system, to obtain the identity of the author.

The prosecutor’s office determined that the author posted more than 500 comments on Ohio.com and was often critical of the Democratic Party and Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic.

Prosecutors decided Wright didn’t pose any real threat and that the comment about Rowlands and Walsh, while offensive, didn’t rise to the level of bringing criminal charges.

“There’s no crime for being a windbag,” said Brad Gessner, chief assistant prosecutor for Summit County. “But there’s that line. When that line is crossed, that’s when charges will be brought.”

Sheriff’s deputies met with Wright at his home to let him know about Rowlands’ complaint.

Banned from website

The Beacon Journal removed the comments after Rowlands complained and has banned Wright from commenting on Ohio.com.

Beacon Journal Editor Bruce Winges questioned the county resources used to investigate the comment.

“I respect what our judges and our prosecutors do for a living and realize the job is difficult, but this seems like an awful lot of effort for something that did not rise to the level of a criminal offense,” he said.

He added that some of the comments on Ohio.com are offensive and are removed when pointed out, but that the website provides an online forum for the community.

Sheriff’s spokesman Bill Holland said it’s rare for the county to investigate the source of an anonymous online comment, but it will if there’s a complaint made.

“We don’t sit and scour the blogs, obviously,” he said.

Rowlands declined to comment. Gessner answered questions for Walsh, saying that she was out of town when the comment was posted and he couldn’t say whether she was concerned or not.

New policy

The elections board’s new Internet-use policy says no board employee may use his or her computer for personal use at any time and that board computers may “only be used for board business.” The previous policy didn’t bar personal use, but prohibited:

•Anything that would “interfere with normal business activities.”

•Soliciting money.

•Operating a business.

•Bringing “embarrassment or harm” to the board.

•Transmitting, downloading or printing “obscene, pornographic, threatening, or racially, sexually or religiously harassing materials.”

The board previously had been following an Internet-use policy the prosecutor’s office used. It was more lenient than the board’s new policy.

Weber and Alex Arshinkoff, the Republican board members, said they will be looking for a new campaign finance employee at the board.

Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman, said there are “all kinds of reasons” the board doesn’t want employees using computers for personal reasons, with the chief ones being productivity and the security of the board’s computer system.

“The board felt that was the direction they wanted to move in,” he said.

Gorbach declined further comment.

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Rick Armon and Stephanie Warsmith - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)

©2013 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

Visit the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) at www.ohio.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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