State officials look into racist e-mails

Jokes about Obama have been linked to government accounts

Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Alaska officials are investigating racist jokes about President-elect Barack Obama that have been circulating on state government e-mail accounts.

One of the five e-mails obtained by The Associated Press asks what was the outcome of the Democrat's victory after all the time and money spent, and concludes: "Another black family living in government housing!"

State officials were unaware of the e-mails until asked about them by the AP.

Three of the racist messages were confirmed by the state's information technology division after an electronic search of the government's e-mail system, Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer said Wednesday.

"It's embarrassing to the state," she said.

Kreitzer said she alerted the office of Gov. Sarah Palin - the failed Republican vice presidential candidate - about the e-mails.

Bill McAllister, Palin's spokesman, said in an e-mail that the matter concerned individual actions taken by a handful of state employees among thousands.

"My understanding is that the Department of Administration is following up on this with the individuals who took action to forward the offensive e-mails," he said. "This is, of course, a confidential personnel and disciplinary matter that has nothing to do with the governor's office."

The Rev. Alonzo Patterson said he's heard Palin make several positive comments about Obama since the election.

But as Alaska's top official, the governor would be wise to address the anti-Obama e-mails distributed by state workers, said Patterson, a Baptist minister who also is state chairman of the Alaska Black Leadership Conference.

"They're doing that in a state setting," he said. "She should condemn it."

Officials were not releasing the names of those involved.

It appears the original e-mails were sent to state employees from outside the state system, but some state employees forwarded them.

One e-mail, with the subject line of "Night Befo Crizzmus," was forwarded dozens of times, Kreitzer said.

The personnel files of workers who circulated the jokes, which originated outside the state system, will be examined to see if any have a pattern of similar behavior, she said.

The level of discipline will be determined by past behaviors and could range from diversity training to letters of reprimand.

It's unlikely anyone will be fired unless something "extremely egregious" in a worker's employment history is found, Kreitzer said.

Kreitzer said this could be a wake-up call for all state employees about the proper use of state e-mail.

"That could be the silver lining here," she said.

The state was investigating further whether the two other e-mails given to the AP also were in the state system, Kreitzer said.

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