Richmond Commissioner Jason Morgan is set to be reviewed by the Board of Ethics after questionable ethical decisions were alleged against him.
Several commissioners — including Morgan — voted to move the inquiry regarding him forward in a special called meeting on July 17.
With the exception of Commissioner Jacob Grant, who recused himself from the executive session portion, and abstained from the vote, the decision to send Morgan's actions to the board was unanimous.
“A personnel matter recently came to my attention, and the city promptly responded by the mayor (Robert Blythe) calling a special meeting, which was held on July 17, 2020," City Manager Rob Minerich said. "This matter involved both an employee and a commissioner, who himself voted with the board to refer this matter to the city of Richmond’s Board of Ethics. Until the Ethics Board proceeding becomes final and the city’s board of commissioners takes action, this matter remains preliminary.”
The meeting was called to discuss potential litigation and personnel which involved an incident between the commissioner and a city employee in the IT Department whom he allegedly coerced to access personal information of an additional city employee, according to official documents obtained by The Richmond Register.
The documents show that on either July 9 or 10, Morgan contacted a city IT employee and claimed another city employee had personal information on their work computer, and asked the IT employee if they could provide that to him.
Reports claim Morgan told the IT employee the entirety of the commission wanted to fire the other city worker.
Following that, on Saturday, July 11, the IT employee allegedly went inside City Hall, accessed the other employee's personal e-mail files with Morgan on the phone, and sent him screenshots, the documents state.
On July 14, the documents state Morgan went before several of his colleagues and informed them he had this IT employee look up the personal files. Morgan then accused the employee he was investigating of taking bribes from an independent contractor in the city based on the information he uncovered.
According to documents obtained by The Richmond Register, Morgan’s allegations against the city employee do not appear to be supported by any evidence.
"A city official has no right to direct access of employee personal files, and there are proper channels to make allegations and investigate allegations against a city employee," the document reads.
Despite the measure to review his own actions, Morgan said he has no knowledge of the specific incident being referred to the Board of Ethics.
"I don't know what the inquiry is about," he told The Register. "I support the inquiry, and I voted for it. That’s how confident I am that I did nothing wrong.”
However, city officials and approved meeting minutes of the executive session refute his claim. Both stated Morgan was present for the discussion, which included the testimony of a city employee, who otherwise would not have been allowed in the session.
"I will fervently defend myself," Morgan said. "I don't believe I have done anything inappropriate."
However, potential violations of the city's technology usage policy may not be the only trouble he could be facing. It could lead to formal criminal charges.
According to KRS 434.845, "A person is guilty of unlawful access to a computer in the first degree when he or she, without effective consent of the owner, knowingly and willfully, directly or indirectly access, causes to be accessed, or attempts to access any computer software, program data, computer, computer system, computer network, or any part thereof, for the purpose of:
(a) Devising or executing any scheme or artifice to defraud; or
(b) Obtaining money, property, or services for themselves or another by means of false of fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises."
First-degree unlawful access to a computer is a Class C felony.
Additionally, charges of misuse of computer information, also a Class C felony, and fourth-degree unlawful access, a Class B misdemeanor, could be filed if the incident is criminally pursued.
Morgan has been on the City Commission for several terms and was recently re-elected to the commission in 2018 after garnering 2,052 votes at the close of the primary election previously.
Also discussed at the meeting was the IT employee who allegedly allowed Morgan access to the information. Minerich is referenced in the meeting minutes stating the employee is suspended with pay and will be until the matter is addressed with the Board of Ethics. If the suspension exceeds 15 days, he will then need approval from the board of commissioners to extend the suspension.
The Board of Ethics will review both cases at a meeting slated to be held on Tuesday, July 28, at 2 p.m. at City Hall.