SIDNEY — The Sidney Daily News has learned that the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Eric Finke, who was the Sidney City Schools director of operations, technology and transportation, allegedly involved accessing district employees’ emails.
After submitting a public records request to the district asking for copies of everything associated with the resignation, the Daily News received copies of Finke’s resignation letter, a letter dated Sept. 22 from Superintendent John Scheu to Finke placing Finke on paid administrative leave, a letter from Scheu to the Ohio Department of Education regarding possible educator misconduct, an email from Scheu to board of education members describing the allegations against Finke, a letter from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office to Scheu describing their findings in the incident, an email from Board Member Bob Smith showing how many times emails were accessed by Finke, and 159 pages of data showing the number of times emails were accessed by Finke from Feb. 24 to Sept. 20, 1916.
Finke’s resignation was accepted Oct. 2 by the Board of Education by a 3-2 vote with Mandi Croft and Chip Hix both voting no and Bob Smith, Bill Ankeny and Paul Heins voting yes. His resignation was effective Oct. 31.
In his letter, Finke wrote, “After prayerful consideration and speaking with my family, I am writing to notify you that I am resigning my positions as Director of Operations, Technology, and Transportation as of October 31, 2016, to pursue other career options. I am deeply saddened and under duress which is why I have changed my mind several times on this letter … I look forward to a quick, quiet resolution so that we can move forward as soon as possible for all parties.”
The alleged investigation began when Scheu sent an email to the board members on Sept. 21 concerning information he had received from other district employees that “Eric Finke was sharing confidential information with them that made them feel quite uncomfortable, and one suggested they thought some of his information was coming from emails.”
Scheu contacted John Michalos, network engineer for the district, and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office about the incident. He met with both individuals for “advice on checking to see if the integrity of school employee email accounts had been compromised. The Sheriff’s Department suggested confiscating Eric’s computer to do an investigation as an option but I chose to have John Michalos determine if these email accounts had been accessed by Eric. He provided me for the past 6 months email accounts that Eric had accessed numerous times that include board members, superintendent, administrators, teachers,” Scheu wrote in the email to the board.
The IT Department, Scheu wrote in his email, “has unlimited access to email accounts to fix a specific program or issue that has been brought to their attention, but not blanket or allowable access to get into email accounts without a specific reason.”
After Scheu met with the Sheriff’s Office, the decision was made to disable Finke’s computer.
The email further states that Finke, Scheu and Treasurer Mike Watkins had met to discuss the issue and Finke allegedly told them he was “ashamed of sharing confidential information … Upon his request I put him on paid administrative leave this afternoon and told him if he wants more time off, to take this until the matter is resolved.”
When contacted by the Daily News this week, Finke said, “In my former position as IT director with the Sidney City Schools, I was operating according to board policy, 7540.01, which states ‘All computers, telephone systems, electronic mail systems, and voice mail systems are the Board’s property and are intended to be used for business purposes. The Board retains the right to access and review all electronic and voice mail, computer files, data bases, and any other electronic transmissions contained in or used in conjunction with the Board’s computer system, telephone system, electronic mail system, and voice mail system. Staff members shall be notified that they have no expectation that any information contained on such systems is confidential or private.’ Furthermore, all email correspondences from any SCS staff member end with the statement, ‘Sidney City Schools reserves the right to monitor all email communication through its networks.’”
In the letter from Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jim Frye, dated Sept. 22, 2016, he said he had found a section of the Ohio Revised Code dealing with unauthorized use of telecommunication property. Frye then met with Shelby County Prosecutor Tim Sell to review the law. Frye wrote that Sell said, “We did have a criminal violation and if we wanted to charge he would approve the charge.” No charges have yet been filed.
“Although some could argue the point that Mr. Finke, being the Technology Coordinator had a right to be in another person’s email, this is contrary to the law,” Frye wrote.
When asked by the Daily News this week about the investigation, Frye said, “There was never, per se, an investigation. We were brought information that led us to believe someone was accessing email information.” The sheriff’s office was informed that following a meeting among several employees, Finke had said something to one of them that led the employee to believe that Finke had seen the employee’s email without the employee’s consent.
Scheu was subsequently advised on how to find out whether Finke was, indeed, wrongly accessing employees’ emails.
“Documents showed that Eric was the one accessing the emails, and there is no doubt he was the one doing it based on the logs and the information he obtained and then questioned people about,” Frye to told the Daily News. “Eric, himself, when questioned by Mr. Scheu, admitted to having an ‘addiction’ when it came to his snooping. Mr. Scheu wanted to handle the situation internally. Eric was highly respected by Mr. Scheu and when (Scheu) met with us after meeting with Eric, he was visibly upset because Eric was basically John’s right hand man and John trusted Eric.”
After Finke’s resignation on Oct. 10, 2016, Scheu sent an educator misconduct reporting form to the Ohio Department of Education. Under the question which asks “Why are you reporting this educator?” Scheu checked three responses:
• The employee has resigned under threat of termination or non-renewal; and or,
• The employee resigned because of or in the course of an investigation regarding an act unbecoming the profession or an offense described in revised Code 3319.31 or 3319.39, and /or,
• The employee has engaged or may have engaged in conduct unbecoming to the teaching profession.
When contacted about the status of the investigation, Brittany Halpin, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education, said “I can’t confirm nor deny either way if there’s an investigation.” The issue remains private, she said, until any disciplinary action takes place.
On Thursday, Smith told the Daily News that Finke had helped him on several occasions when he could not access his board email. In each instance, said Smith, Finke resolved the issue he was having.
Because no charges have been filed against Finke, the Daily News asked Smith if the board had considered reprimanding Finke instead of asking for his resignation. Smith said he couldn’t comment because the discussion took place in an executive session.
When asked about his vote on Oct. 2 to accept Finke’s resignation, Smith said, “I would not change my vote; however, I found Mr. Finke to be an asset to the district and I wish he was still a district employee. The reason for my vote is the result of executive session … which I cannot discuss.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.