Legal issues slowly reaching resolution

Posted: Thursday, September 26, 2002

Kenai District Attorney Dwayne McConnell said Wednesday he has decided not to press charges in the alleged e-mail security breach at the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

The decision is the first resolution of several outstanding legal issues plaguing contract negotiations for the district's teachers and support employees.

The district discovered in April that several confidential e-mails between senior administrators and school board members had been intercepted by unauthorized parties. The district claimed that the e-mails dealt with negotiation positions.

An internal investigation by the district found three teachers to be involved in the e-mail breach, though their names were not released. The district forwarded one name to Soldotna police, who issued a report on one suspect to the district attorney and recommended the Kenai police investigate another suspect. Kenai police forwarded their report to McConnell's office this summer.

McConnell deemed that there was no evidence of criminal actions in the Soldotna case in June. He came to the same conclusion this week regarding the Kenai case.

District Superintendent Donna Peterson was in Anchorage on Wednesday and unavailable for comment on the legal proceedings.

Also this week, the district restored Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Hans Bilben's e-mail privileges. Bilben's e-mail access had been revoked by the district after the internal investigation found that he had seen the intercepted e-mails.

Bilben, along with the KPEA and three individual district employees, filed a lawsuit against the district in August. The lawsuit sought to restore Bilben's e-mail privileges and alleged that the district had violated the Alaska Open Meetings Act by conducting school board business via confidential e-mail without a public vote to do so.

Bilben said Wednesday that due to a number of pending legal motions, he did not know the exact status of the suit. However, he said his e-mail was reactivated Tuesday.

In other legal proceedings,

The district filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the KPEA and Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association last spring claiming that the interception of the confidential e-mails gave the associations an unfair advantage in bargaining.

The Alaska Labor Relations Agency has deemed that the complaint has merit -- meaning that if the allegations are found to be true, the associations could face legal consequences.

Investigator Jean Ward said Wednesday that a hearing has not been set in the matter because the agency is still investigating a counterclaim from the associations.

The associations filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the district alleging that it created a negative bargaining atmosphere, stalled the process and went outside its authority by presenting association membership inaccurate data about the negotiations. Ward said she is working on completing an investigation of the allegations and may finish by the end of the week.

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