Blunt under Fire
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Blunt under Fire

Date: October 31, 2007
By: Bria Scudder
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt faced new attacks Wednesday for his administration's decision to release information about a fired employee to reporters while refusing to provide the same information to the employee himself.

At issue is the request of former staff attorney Scott Eckersley for e-mails that the governor's office has been distributing to reporters as justification for firing the attorney -- emails that Eckersley's attorney complains the administration has refused to provide to his client.

But that approach was questioned by one of the nation's leading experts on freedom of information laws.

"The information is public for everybody or private for everybody.", said the executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, Charles Davis.

"The exemptions in the law apply to all public governmental bodies equally"

The e-mails distributed to reporters by the governor's office indicate that Eckersley was using state resources to do private business for a health care company and to receive information from a sex-oriented internet site.  Eckersley's attorney said he still hasn't received copies of that information. 

Refusal by the governor's office to provide that material to Eckersley drew fire from top Democrats in Missouri.

Eckersley claims that he was fired because he warned the governor's staff they might be breaking the law concerning how the office was handling e-mails that were subject to media requests.

His attorney, Steve Garner, said that the allegations against him are not true. Garner said Eckersley received permission from his superior to conduct outside work. Garner said that the adult website the governor is referring to was spam e-mail, that Eckersley was not actively searching for the website. E-mail copies provided by Blunt's office, however, indicate that Eckersley was registered user of site.

This is the second time that Blunt's office has accused a government employee of viewing an adult website on government computers. Heather Elder faced a similar accusation after her dismissal involving claims that Agriculture Department Director Fred Ferrell had sexually harassed her. She also faced accusations of viewing adult websites on state computers. The state settled out of court, and Elder received $82,500.

A Democratic spokesman charges that there is a pattern for the governor to attack the character of those that he fires.  "There is only one playbook on how they deal with these issues. They fire them and start right in on character assassination," said Jack Cardetti.

Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, echoed Cardetti's charges.  "It seems to be a theme now. The governor has a dispute with someone, fires them, and then accuses them of looking at pornography on state time."

Bray, as well as several other legislators expressed concern Wednesday about the amount of unsolicited and unwanted pornographic spam e-mail that they receive on their state e-mail accounts.

"The amount of pornography that comes to my e-mail address through the state is just obscene. If I happen to click on one of those sometime; if I didn't recognize it for what it was and clicked on it am I going to be accused of looking at pornography on state time?", Bray said.