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Charlotte Area

Harry Jones mum on e-mail he sent to critic's employer

In Sunday's Charlotte Observer, a front-page story probes what happened to $162,000 in donations that were intended for a Department of Social Services program that helps needy kids. The Observer obtained e-mails that reveal many problems. In one case, officials suspect an employee wrote $80,000 in checks to herself from donations. There were also e-mails from concerned people who donated to the charity. County Manager Harry Jones responded to one of those e-mails by forwarding to the citizen's employer. WFAE's Greg Collard reports. In July, Harry Lomax attended a county commission meeting. He was upset. There were reports that DSS couldn't account for thousands of dollars intended for a program called The Giving Tree. Lomax had donated to the program. He wanted to let county officials know his concerns. But the meeting started late. Lomax couldn't stay all night. He left after an hour without getting a chance to speak. He decided to e-mail his prepared remarks. In those remarks, Mr. Lomax said he felt duped because DSS used the program as its "petty cash fund." And he felt duped by what he called the flippant hands-off response by some commissioners and County Manager Harry Jones. Lomax e-mailed these criticisms from his personal RoadRunner account. He never mentioned his employer, Bank of America. But county manager Jones forwarded the e-mail to a BofA official and asked "Do you know Harry Lomax?" The bank official, named Betty Turner, said she did not. She also said that Lomax's e-mail embarrassed her and that she would alert another bank official. So why did Jones feel the need to notify Lomax's employer about the e-mail? Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts says she doesn't see malicious motives in Jones' e-mail. "I didn't read anything into it. I have not asked Harry what his personal intention was. You'll have to ask him that." We did ask Harry Jones. He refused to answer. WFAE received this response from county public information officer Danny Diehl. "At this time, Harry Jones declines to comment to your questions regarding the email." We then asked why Mr. Jones declined to comment. "Because he does not want to at this time," Diehl said by e-mail. Professor Jerrell Coggburn says Jones' action sends a strong message, but not a good one. Coggburn teaches government ethics at North Carolina State, where he's chairman of the Department of Public Administration. "We spend a lot of time talking about how important it is to have authentic participation by citizens in the public debate. Quite honestly, whenever a citizen steps forward to bring a matter to the attention of decision-makerss, only to have the decision-maker turn around and appear to be playing hardball, one really wonders if that wouldn't have a chilling effect on the likelihood of other citizens participating in that public indebate. Commissioner Jennifer Roberts admits that's one way of looking at it. She also offers this theory: "He (Lomax) doesn't say his company's name in the e-mail, but he does say my company feels duped." Well not really. Lomax never says his company feels duped. He only says that he feels duped because both he and his company gave to - again, his words - the "Giving Tree sham." Update: County Manager Harry Jones told commissioners on Tuesday that he was wrong for forwarding Harry Lomax's e-mail to his employer. "This is yet another lesson learned, and a mistake that I assure you will surely not be repeated," he said, according to the Charlotte Observer. The Observer's report says there has been misconceptions about why he sent the e-mail, but he wouldn't say why he did it.