Story last updated at 2:05 p.m. Thursday, August 22, 2002

Teacher may be subject of e-mail probe
by Carey James
Staff Writer

Documents contained in a recently filed lawsuit by the Kenai Peninsula Education Association further illuminate the details of the district's e-mail controversy.

According to the documents, teacher Bill Vedders provided allegedly confidential e-mail documents between the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and school board members to teachers union president Hans Bilben.

Vedders, who teaches at Mountain View Elementary in Kenai, was formerly listed as the teachers union's public relations representative.

According to Gary Whiteley, assistant superintendent for the district and one of the district investigators, Vedders is still employed as a teacher for the district, and has been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 14. Whiteley declined to comment as to why Vedders was on leave.

The district has alleged that an individual accessed e-mail documents between board members and district administrators regarding the current contract negotiations. The e-mail investigation, which came to light in early April, set off a spiral of actions that have delayed contract negotiations and led to dueling unfair labor practices claims between the two sides as well as two legal investigations and the civil lawsuit filed last week. One of those investigations has been forwarded to the Kenai District Attorney's office, but a decision had not been made on its merit as of Wednesday.

Most recently, Bilben, along with the union and several other members, have filed a lawsuit against the district claiming that its actions restricting his e-mail privileges and placing him on "probation" are excessive and have hampered his effectiveness as union president.

Bilben has long contended that while he was aware the e-mails crossed his desk, he did not read any regarding the contract negotiations, and did not pass on any information to the union bargaining team that would compromise negotiations. Bilben said he threw the e-mails out after looking at only a few.

"I gave the e-mail messages in question short shrift, thus I recall only seeing e-mail messages to or from (school board member) Joe Arness and e-mail messages to or from (Superintendent) Donna Peterson," Bilben wrote in a statement included in the union lawsuit. "As to content, all I remember is that one e-mail was a parent's response to a newsletter that had been sent home by teachers at North Star Elementary School, and I also recall a reference that someone named 'Saul' had been contacted."

According to the document, Vedders obtained the e-mails on April 7 and turned them over to Bilben April 8 or 9.

Further, the document said, Bilben told Phil Biggs, the district's former technology director (who resigned in early August) "that some board members had apparently not changed their passwords. I believed that to be true because early in the semester ... Mr. Vedders showed me other e-mails."

Bilben continued to say that it was his belief that Biggs began his investigation into the improper access of district e-mail based on the information he provided.

Vedders could not be reached for comment.