The suspension of a Calvert County employee for sending a political e-mail to other county workers is generating a squabble among the county commissioners.
The controversy centers on Steven E. Carle, the county's computer services supervisor, who received a two-day suspension without pay last month for e-mailing hundreds of county employees letters opposing a proposal to adopt code home rule government in Calvert.
County Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large) called the disciplinary action retribution against Carle for his opposition to the proposal, which voters overwhelmingly rejected Nov. 2. Kelley was alone among the five commissioners in opposing the plan, which would have expanded the board's legislative authority.
"It would seem that both the timing and nature of the disciplinary action is one of political 'pay-back,' " Kelley wrote to the commissioners in a Nov. 10 e-mail obtained through the state Public Information Act. "It has the appearance of a witch hunt."
Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown) said Friday that Kelley's accusations have no merit. "There is no conspiracy," she said. "We have a very clear e-mail policy, and [Carle] violated that. It's just that simple."
County Administrator James J. Allman said last week that Carle was suspended because he violated a county policy that forbids sending political e-mails to county employees and a policy that forbids sending such e-mails to county computers.
But Carle said the policy does not apply in his case because he sent the Oct. 31 e-mail as a private citizen on a non-county e-mail account from his home computer.
"When I am not on the clock at work, when I am not being paid, I am a Calvert County citizen and reserve the right to free speech just like anyone else who wants to send an e-mail to county employees," he said last week.
Allman, however, said that private citizens also should not send political e-mails to county employee accounts.
County e-mail accounts "should not be used by employees or by private citizens for political purposes," Allman said. "If it was abused by private citizens, we could block their e-mails coming in."
But Kelley said all citizens have the right to e-mail county employees from their personal e-mail accounts.
"County employees, when they are not 'on the clock' still have rights as private citizens and all the attendant privileges, including . . . free speech," Kelley wrote in the e-mail. "It's that pesky 1st amendment thing."
A Nov. 8 suspension form also said that Carle improperly used an e-mail address list of county employees that was sent to his home e-mail address. Carle said the list became a public document once it was sent to his personal e-mail account.
The two-day suspension without pay was one of three disciplinary actions Carle received Nov. 8. He also received an oral warning for sending an inappropriate e-mail to county staff members and a written warning for insubordination. Carle, who said he had no previous disciplinary actions during his nine years with the county, denied any wrongdoing and said the charges were politically motivated.
"It's pretty strange that all three happened on the same day, don't you think?" Carle said.
Shaw, however, said three disciplinary actions against a county employee more likely indicated that the individual should be fired.
Carle appealed his suspension, and a four-member grievance board heard his complaint Friday. The panel's decision, which is expected in the coming weeks, can be overturned by the county commissioners.