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BOC moves to censure one of their own after email breach investigation
FCN Forsyth County Administration Building

Forsyth County Commissioners will likely take action against one of their own after receiving the results of an outside investigation into whether one commissioner accessed the emails of another. 

At a work session on Tuesday, Forsyth County Commissioners voted to have County Attorney Ken Jarrard’s office “draw up a resolution of censure of reprimand” regarding the results of the investigation, “direct that the report of formal inquiry be delivered to an independent agency for independent review” and to have Chairwoman Laura Semanson bring ethics complaints based on the results, according to District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper, who made the motion. 

The item was approved on a time-sensitive basis with a 3-0 vote, with District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent, who left the meeting for the duration of the discussion, and District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills recused. 

Jarrard said the item was for “action only” and had been discussed during a work session earlier in the meeting.  

Semanson said the report provided the results from an “independent investigation that was performed with respect to email breaches and use of that information.” 

Commissioners did not say which commissioner had reportedly accessed the emails, whose emails were accessed, or how the emails had been obtained.  

The Forsyth County News has submitted an Open Records Request for information related to the investigation. 

At a meeting in May, commissioners approved hiring an outside attorney to investigate whether a commissioner had allegedly accessed another's emails without going through the state's Open Records Act.  

When obtaining documents through the Open Records Act, certain information must be redacted, like job applications, economic development records and personal information. 

Since the information did not go through that process, none of it was redacted. 

“We would like to get to the bottom of that,” Semanson said at the previous meeting, “understand what that potential breach of information included, how it occurred if it did in fact occur, and what was done with that information that was obtained: how it was distributed or used in any particular way, whether it was for county purposes or personal or political purposes.” 

At the May meeting, the board approved up to $20,000 for the investigation and approved a memo stating that all elected officials would need to use the act for securing information from emails going forward. 

Before taking the vote, Semanson said even if commissioners did not approve the memo “it does not in any way diminish that this is, in fact, the law.” 

Cooper asked Jarrard, who was not allowed to take part in the inquiry since he represents all of the commissioners, whether accessing a commissioner’s email “without that commissioner's consent or knowledge” was against the law. 

In response, Jarrard said there were “legal issues raised by that, some of them that I am comfortable talking to you about and some I am not.” 

“I will say that this policy speaks to law with respect to getting communications, even if they're public documents, that involve staff members,” he said, “and this is the policy that the county has adhered to and will adhere to in the future.”