New U.S. civil rights chief pulled back into transgender staffer fight in Montgomery
Just a week after Tom Perez was formally installed as chief of the Justice Department's Civil Rights division, the former Maryland labor secretary and Montgomery Council member was given a little welcoming gift Friday by council member Duchy Trachtenberg: a letter seeking to bring him into a messy Montgomery dispute regarding ethics proceedings against a transgender council staffer.
Dana Beyer, a doctor and top Trachtenberg aide, says claims she threatened or tried to intimidate opponents of a 2007 transgender rights law are baseless. Beyer helped craft the transgender law and is the first person to use it. Last week Beyer filed a discrimination complaint against Montgomery's ethics commission, which is moving forward with a rare hearing on the accusations against her. She said Trachtenberg's letter asks for Perez's "guidance" on the matter. Trachenberg's office declined to release the letter, but said they'll release his response when one comes.
Trachtenberg on Friday did release a letter she sent Montgomery county attorney Leon Rodriguez reiterating her objection to a search of Beyer's e-mail by a county technology official working on behalf of investigators in the county attorney's office and the ethics commission.
The computer files were searched by keywords connected to the investigation, but nothing improper was found, according to county documents.
Trachtenberg pointed to a county administrative policy that states: "Upon the approval of the e-mail user's department head and the [chief information officer], system administrators in [the Department of Technology Services] or the e-mail user's department may access an employee's e-mail messages and computer files related to the employee's use of the County's Internet, Intranet and e-mail services."
"It is my understanding that the search of Dr. Beyer's computer was conducted without the consent of the Council Staff Director (the department head)," Trachtenberg wrote. "Such a search constitutes a deliberate and willful violation of county administrative rules."
Some county officials have argued that there are inconsistencies between those administrative rules and confidentiality requirements in Montgomery's ethics law.
Rodriguez said he did not have an immediate response to Trachtenberg's letter. He did note that "searches of County employee computers are conducted electronically and do not require entry into the employee's workspace."
For Trachtenberg's full letter, see the jump:
November 20, 2009
Dear Mr. Rodriguez:
As you may know, the report dated September 8, 2009, from your office to the Montgomery County Ethics Commission in the matter of the investigation of Dr. Dana Beyer, a member of my staff, contained the extraordinary revelation that Dr. Beyer's workplace computer was swept by a DTS technician in the course of the County Attorney's investigation undertaken at the direction of the Ethics Commission.
The Montgomery County Administrative Procedure regulation that directly relates to the use of county-provided Internet, Intranet and Electronic Mail Services states: "Upon the approval of the email user's department head and the CIO, system administrators in DTS or the e-mail user's department may access an employee's e-mail messages and computer files related to the employee's use of the County's Internet, Intranet and e-mail services."
In this case, it is my understanding that the search of Dr. Beyer's computer was conducted without the consent of the Council Staff Director (the department head) and certainly without my consent or Dr. Beyer's consent. Such a search constitutes a deliberate and willful violation of county administrative rules. It is particularly problematic that an Executive Branch agency would undertake to conduct a secret search of the computer files of a sitting Member of the County Council without the consent of the Councilmember or any authorized official of the Council.
Accordingly, I am requesting an immediate (within one week time) response from your office to the following questions:
- What member or official of the Ethics Commission requested the computer search?
- Who in the County Attorney's office, if anyone, authorized the computer search?
- Who else, if anyone, purported to authorize the computer search?
- Who actually performed the computer search?
- On what day did it occur?
- Who provided access to my private, Councilmember office suite, which is locked after business hours?
- Was my own computer swept as part of this investigation?
- If so, please provide answers to questions 1 through 6 with respect to the search of my computer.
- Please provide written documentation of any computer(s) searches; specifically, what was searched; using what key words; and subsequent findings.
You can certainly understand that I am most dismayed that any Executive Branch agency or office would undertake a clandestine, and evidently unlawful, search of confidential files in the office of a sitting Councilmember. And I intend on getting to the bottom of this reckless abuse of authority. The people of Montgomery County have an expectation of transparent and ethical behavior on the part of all public servants. And they deserve no less.
Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg
CC: Mr. Tim Firestine, CAO
Mr. Steve Farber, Council Staff Director
November 23, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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