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No clarification coming from county on free speech issue for employees

County Manager Harry Jones says some things are just common sense. Jones said he has no plans to change or clarify county policy on political activity by county employees in the wake of a controversy over the resignation of an employee after a particularly volatile letter to the editor ran in Creative Loafing.

The letter, by now-former Minority Affairs Director Ahmad Daniels, argued that African-Americans should continue to hyphenate their racial designation, despite the renewed sense of community many Americans feel since the events of September 11. Daniels' letter flew in the face of a similarly impassioned monologue by Jones to the board of county commissioners in which Jones suggested that American minority groups drops the hypens from their racial designation.

Writing letters to the editor of local publications isn't covered under county policy in the county employees' handbook. The section of the handbook that deals with political activity mainly deals with partisan political activity, and forbids employees from working for a partisan cause or political campaign on county time, or with county resources.

It also prohibits county employees from using their official positions to influence or interfere with the outcome of an election or nomination for political office.

Daniels' letter violated none of the above rules, but after learning about the letter, Jones sent an email to commissioners calling Daniels' letter insubordinate. Jones also wrote that he planned to have a talk with Daniels about it. Soon after that conversation, Daniels resigned. Jones insists Daniels was not forced out of his job, while Daniels has implied that the resignation wasn't his wish.

As to any change in county policy, Jones said it would be difficult to do because inappropriate versus appropriate political activity by an employee would be hard to define.

Jones said he believes that as county manager he still has the right to exercise his First Amendment rights.

"But as county manager, I am in a position where I have to exercise some judgment.

Jones said holding a higher level position in politics or government means being subject to more scrutiny than a general member of the public. Jones used his 1995 DWI conviction, which commissioners discussed before appointing him county manager, as an example of the problem.

"Had I been a social worker it would not likely have gotten the same attention," said Jones.

His point? Higher ranking government officials must take their positions into account when deciding how to conduct themselves both on the job and off it.

But to Jones, the whole point is moot.

"The point I keep making is Ahmad (Daniels) quit," said Jones. "He resigned from his position, and I accepted it." *

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