In the view of County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, proposed changes to the county’s information technology policy are principally intended to guarantee software and hardware conformity between all departments, even those headed by elected officials.
However, Supervisor Ally Miller sees an attempt to limit free speech in the proposed policy and says she would consider taking legal action against the county if there are not significant changes in what is being considered.
“This is a violation of my First Amendment rights,” she said. “You can’t tell people what they can and cannot express in an opinion.”
Proposed changes would explicitly include elected officials in prohibitions on “inappropriate usage” of county IT equipment. Such uses include the advancement of “personal views,” or “producing, distributing or forwarding content” that is “discriminatory, harassing or disruptive” or “objectively offensive,” among other restrictions. Personal devices would also no longer be able to access county email or the county network, according to a draft of the policy.
Huckelberry said the changes reflect the board’s desire for the new IT policy to require compliance from all county departments.
“I don’t think that the policy was ever intended to restrict the free speech of any individual, including an elected official,” Huckelberry said. “The board explicitly requested that (the policies) apply to elected officials.”
Supervisor Sharon Bronson said she was open to looking at the legal arguments, but said the purpose of the proposal was to hold her and other elected officials “to the same standards that we hold the rest of Pima County employees.”
If the board were to approve the changes, Huckelberry would have the power to “block or terminate any component of the IT program” that “has been determined to violate any county policy.” If an elected official were to be found in violation, the Board of Supervisors could then also consider budget sanctions for their department.
“To think that he can financially punish somebody for their First Amendment free-speech rights, that is stunning,” Miller said.
The supervisors were set to consider the changes this coming Tuesday, but Huckelberry requested that the item be postponed until the Dec. 19 meeting “to allow us to address the individual concerns that have arisen over implementation of this proposed policy.”
Timothy La Sota, a Phoenix attorney who represents Miller, said the delay is a welcome development. “We did want this fixed, and part of fixing is probably delaying it so the county can give it more thought,” he said.
In an Oct. 3 letter to Huckelberry sent on behalf of Miller, La Sota said if the policy is adopted “without significant changes to address the First Amendment concerns expressed here,” Miller will likely take the matter to court. Miller said she is paying La Sota out of her own pocket.
The letter says the policy would not only limit the free speech of officials like Miller, but also severely restrict communication between constituents and their representatives. La Sota told the Star the restrictions on use of information technology by regular employees may be permissible, but is “completely nutso for elected officials.”
The draft proposal was released in early September, shortly after Miller expressed pride in being white in a Facebook post from her personal account. Written the same day that race-based protests turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia, the comments offended many.
But even if they had been written during business hours on county equipment, Huckelberry said the comments don’t “rise to being profane,” so they likely wouldn’t constitute a violation.
Examples of likely violations include inappropriate jokes and other comments that “make fun of ethnicity, or race or sexual preference,” Huckelberry offered.
Miller suspects she would be the principal target of the policy if it were to be approved, but said it could potentially be used against any elected official who “disagrees with (Huckelberry).”
Huckelberry said the County Attorney’s Office is still reviewing parts of the proposal, which is one of the reasons he requested the delay. He did say the prohibition on using personal devices to access county email “probably won’t survive.”
He also suggested that elected officials like Miller could be exempted from the policy entirely, and that it could state that violations by elected officials could only be addressed by a “recall” initiated by voters.
“I can discipline employees. I cannot discipline an elected official,” Huckelberry said. “The only people who can discipline an elected official is the electorate through a recall.”