I don’t know if I should be relieved or offended that (so far, at least) my inbox and twittums haven’t filled up with demands for me to BYGAWDSAYSOMETHING about the BIGHUGESCANDALERIUM about Kris Barrett, wife of Milwaukee Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett, having written I guess four emails of questionable allowability from her Milwaukee Public Schools email account. So, whether you were waiting patiently for this or praying I didn’t hear about it, either way you get this post.
As one who is fairly active politically and an employee of the Milwaukee Public Schools, I am well aware of what MPS’s policy is regarding computer and email use and politicking. The simplest thing, the thing that I do (go ahead, suckers, FOIA my emails if you want), is to just not do anything political at work or with school resources. This is a no-brainer. There are many people I work with, though, who don’t think about that sort of thing, or whose work email is their primary or only email account, and could very well break the rules unintentionally because they just don’t know better.
Kris Barrett is not, I would like to think, one who doesn’t know better. Her husband has been in politics long enough that this kind of thing–keep the politics off the school resources–should be ingrained.
But that doesn’t mean I think she should be fired. (Oh, wait, Scott Walker’s budget cuts already took care of that one for us.)
Of the four emails that raised questions for Media Trackers, three I am certain would not be considered a violation of the MPS acceptable use policy. The fourth is probably over the line, and for someone who should know better like Kris Barrett, really boneheaded, but a single such email presented to the school board or a disciplinary committee seems unlikely to result in any action, were Kris Barrett still an MPS employee.
(UPDATE: As I was writing this post–not using school resources!–the Journal Sentinel got a response from MPS “officials” saying three of the emails violated the policy. I strongly disagree about two of them, but agree about the third, as you’ll see below.)
Two of the emails were sent after school hours to Wisconsin lawmakers asking for them to vote no on the 2011 budget repair bill that all but ended collective bargaining for public employees in the state. Though sent with her school email and with a signature that identifies her as an employee at Dover St. School, there is no indication in the emails that Kris Barrett was claiming the opinions or the request in the email to be MPS’s stated position. Later that spring, of course, MPS Superintendent Greg Thornton would speak out against Walker’s “reforms,” and the MPS school board did declare that MPS opposed the elimination of collective bargaining. But these two emails are not “lobbying,” as Media Trackers calls it, or the use or creation of “political or campaign materials” as the MPS AUP prohibits. Kris Barrett undoubtedly has a private email account and could–should–have emailed the legislators from that account. In that respect, that she knew better, she was wrong to send the emails. But they are not a violation of MPS policy, and should not be treated as such.
(I should add this disclaimer: I am not the one who makes official determinations about what does and does not follow MPS policy, so my word is not final and should not be construed to be the official stance of the Milwaukee Public Schools.)
A third email, not produced in full by Media Trackers, seems to be a response to an email from a colleague who asked Kris Barrett if she had heard the news about the budget repair bill’s passage. “Unfortunately, yes. Oh my God. What country is this????” Media Trackers quotes Kris Barrett as replying. How anyone could read this as a violation of the MPS AUP is beyond me. Expression of an opinion, colleague to colleague, about current events is not the use or creation of “political or campaign materials.” That Media Trackers includes it is, in my opinion, simply an attempt to further rile the rabid teahadists that already believe anyone to the left of Eisenhower is a godless communist traitor Muslim gay-marrying gun abortionist. It’s meat for the base.
The fourth email, though, is the one that is pretty clearly a violation. It is sent in the middle of a school day–well, I assume. It’s time-stamped about noon on a Wednesday, which might be her lunch hour, and I don’t know what Dover’s calendar was so it may have been a non-student day–in fact, the wording of the email (“I’ll gladly buy a beverage when we’re done”) suggests it may have been a teacher work day or a professional development day of some sort. But the email solicits five other teachers’ help (I assume at their MPS email addresses, though Media Trackers blacked out their names) in defeating Jeff Stone in last year’s Milwaukee County Executive race. This is a pretty clear violation of the rules. She’s politicking, campaigning, and that’s a big no-no. Again, she should have known better.
But if this one email is the extent of the violation, I have a hard time believing MPS would have disciplined her in any serious way. Which is not to excuse it, because, again, I think it violates MPS’s AUP. But it is to say that Media Trackers is playing really, really small ball here, suggesting their desperation. In three weeks, Kris Barrett’s husband is going to put their boy Scott Walker away, and they are running scared. On the day news breaks that in 2011, Walker’s pledge to create 10,000 new businesses actually manifested in a loss of 10,000 businesses, this is a bald and pretty lame attempt to control the media cycle. Sadly, with the media we have here in Milwaukee, it will probably work.