Cleveland cracks down on gamers

Cleveland cracks down on gamers

October 12th, 2010 by Harrison Keely in News

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The city of Cleveland is clamping down on computer activity after several employees were caught playing games and surfing Facebook on the job, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said.

City Manager Janice Casteel ordered the city's information technology staff to remove pre-installed games such as solitaire from every computer about two weeks ago and to block social sites earlier this summer, said her administrative assistant, Beverly Lindsey.

"They had warned us; they had talked about it," said Patti Petitt, director of parks and recreation. "I think they kind of had a little bit of a problem figuring out how to do it."

Cleveland's finding of improper computer use by government employees on work time is the third such revelation in the Chattanooga area in recent weeks.

Last month it was revealed that Hamilton County employee Alan Knowles ran a private business using e-mails from his county computer. He has been suspended for five days without pay. Chattanooga city employees Missy Crutchfield and Melissa Turner were found to be operating an online magazine on city time and using city resources.

In Cleveland, Petitt's assistant, Emily Smith, said the policy changes make it much more difficult to conduct web searches, as results often link to social websites.

The changes came after people complained of seeing city employees using Facebook and playing the online game FarmVille during work, Smith said.

Smith said her mother, who works at the fire department, was upset when Facebook was blocked because she uses the site to see pictures of her grandchildren in Malaysia.

"It kind of peeved her because she knew there were ones who abused it, but didn't feel it was fair for everybody to have to be punished," Smith said.

Her mother has a laptop at home, Smith said, but it's older and slower than city computers. She also said many city employees probably still check Facebook on their mobile phones.

Shortly after games were taken off city computers, Smith said she heard employees say they would bring their own games.

IT specialist Sherry Goines said employees still use the Internet to play online games.

"A lot of employees still use city cell phones to get on Facebook while they are at work, and police officers can still get [on the Web] in their cars on their laptops," Goines said.

USING SOCIAL SITES FOR GOOD

Rowland's secretary, Sue Zius, said she opened a Facebook account just before the city disabled the site on government computers.

"Social networking could be good if it wasn't abused," she said, emphasizing that employees could use the sites to get quick updates.

Petitt said she used Facebook on occasion to check comments on a page for the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway. Now, she said, she has to monitor it on her own time from home.

Bradley County has blocked social websites such as YouTube and eBay for some time on its computers, IT Director Mike Sullivan said. But Facebook remains available, he said, and is sometimes used by the police department.

Bradley County Planner Corey Divel said he needs office access to Facebook to maintain a page for the county's strategic plan.

Tina Bishop, a county building inspector, said the planning department uses Facebook and Twitter accounts to announce meeting times.

Sullivan said he hasn't heard any complaints about abuse of county computers. He said he has no problem with employees checking personal e-mail at work because everyone does it anyway.

Both county and city IT departments said they can see which sites are visited on computers and trace IP addresses to find the source.

Walt Vineyard, IT manager for the city of Cleveland, said it's a constant battle to close access to social websites.

The city blocks "thousands, if not millions" of sites, including file-sharing and streaming audio sites such as Pandora, he said.

Personal internet use during work continues to be a hot topic, Vineyard said.

"It's an issue that's nationwide," he said. "It's been debated for years in the IT world."

City business inspector and permit clerk Peggy Hathcock said she agrees with the city manager's decision.

"If we're here to work, we're not here to play games," she said.