Story last updated at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, June 20, 2002

School district e-mail probe widens
by Carey James
Staff Writer

Soldotna police said Tuesday that no charges will be filed against a school district employee previously investigated for criminal use of a computer, but another employee may soon face charges.

Sgt. Tod McGillivray of the Soldotna Police Department said charges against an unnamed school district employee will not be forwarded to the district attorney because of a lack of evidence that a crime had been committed.

McGillivray said the new investigation, which is expected to be forwarded to the Kenai Police Department where the incident allegedly occurred, involves an employee who allegedly accessed e-mail before the first employee investigated.

According to McGillivray, the new case could result in charges of criminal use of a computer, a class C felony with a possible fine of up to $50,000 and up to five years in jail.

McGillivray said the first individual investigated claimed they accessed the e-mail under a different identity than their own in order to investigate an earlier e-mail security breach.

"The individual said he knew of the security breach and was attempting to solve it," McGillivray said.

The earlier security breach did not turn up in the school district's original investigation because it occurred earlier than the dates the district searched. The earlier e-mail breach only came to light recently, he said.

McGillivray said he was forwarding the case to Kenai Police Tuesday and expects investigators will have plenty of information to form a case fairly rapidly against the second individual.

The investigation stemmed from an incident in which one or more Kenai Peninsula Borough School District employees allegedly logged on the district e-mail system identifying themselves as members of the school board. The district alleges that these individuals accessed private e-mail from district Superintendent Donna Peterson to the board members, possibly involving the controversial contract negotiations between the school district and teachers' and support staff unions.

Initially, four school district employees were investigated, but one was found not to be involved. Of the remaining three, only one was investigated by police until last week, when new information came to light allegedly implicated a second member of the trio. Hans Bilben, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, is the only district employee to have identified himself as one of those being investigated by the school district. Bilben said several weeks ago that the e-mails had crossed his desk, but he had thrown them away without reading them. At that time, he said he was not being investigated by police.

According to district Superintendent Donna Peterson, the district is aware of the new developments. Despite the fact that the first employee involved in the criminal investigation will not be facing charges, Peterson said the district might still choose to enforce disciplinary action against the employee.

"Employee rights are different than criminal rights," Peterson said. "Assuming a false identity is never OK."

Peterson said after the district concluded its investigation of three participants, two people were placed on administrative leave. Since the new information has come to light, no one new has been placed on leave, she said.

Peterson said the district has not changed its position that it does not question the integrity of the union bargaining team members, but also has not withdrawn its complaint of unfair labor practices with the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, filed in May.

According to Jean Ward of the labor agency, the district's complaint is still under investigation and may be for a week or two.

Peterson said no date has been set yet for the contract negotiations to continue, but she expects the next meeting to be in August or September. By then, she said, she hopes the investigations will be settled.

"I'm hopeful all this will be resolved soon," Peterson said.