LONGMONT — Officials spent more than two months and untold dollars scouring Glenn Spagnuolo’s city cell phone and e-mail records for evidence of misusing his time and city resources.
But late Thursday night, the city cleared him of any wrongdoing for using his work cell phone to call in to a radio show in support of controversial University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill.
“On Friday, there was a party-like atmosphere at the office,” said Spagnuolo, who works as a recreation program supervisor and runs after-school and evening programs for at-risk children. “I got a lot of pats on the back (from co-workers).”
City officials began investigating Spagnuolo following comments he made March 3 when he called a 630 KHOW-AM radio program in which he defended Churchill and said violence is understandable when the government stifles peaceful change.
Churchill declined to comment.
According to Spagnuolo, the comments were made after work on his own time. He also says he has reimbursed the city for all calls he’s made on his work cell phone.
As part of their investigation, officials in the city’s Human Resources office examined Spagnuolo’s computer, combed through e-mails, checked his Internet and cell phone use, and interviewed him and his co-workers.
Saying it is a personnel matter, city officials declined to comment on specifics of their decision.
“After reviewing the results of the investigation, the executive director for Community Services has implemented appropriate measures, which do not include discipline, to assure adherence to the city’s personnel rules and administrative regulations regarding use of city resources,” city spokesman Rigo Leal said in a statement.
Spagnuolo said he had mixed emotions.
“I’m really happy because I truly do love my job and working with at-risk youth and in the community,” he said. “I’m glad I’ll still have that opportunity. ... I’m very emotionally attached to the kids I work with and I didn’t want to see that end.”
But, he continued, “I still completely feel that this investigation was a tool for the city to intimidate me into not using my freedom of speech.”
He said just because he’s a city employee “doesn’t mean I turned in my citizenship to take a job.”
In an interview with the Daily Times-Call on Saturday, Leal said that now that the city has decided not to punish Spagnuolo, he will be treated like all other city employees.
Spagnuolo said even though the city absolved him and he won’t face disciplinary action, officials still made a point of chastising his actions. In a nine-page a letter, he said, city administrators highlighted things they claimed he did wrong.
Spagnuolo said city personnel policies prohibit him from sharing the exact text of the letter, but he did say officials admitted in it that their investigation was a direct result of his statements on KHOW.
“Because of that, they decided to look into whether I used my city time effectively,” he said.
In particular, Spagnuolo said, the city’s letter rebuked him for using his work computer to send personal e-mails and having the number to his city-issued cell phone show up on about a half dozen activist Web sites.
Although he admits accessing personal e-mails from his office, the criticism is unjustified, he said, because city policy OKs occasional personal use of city computers.
“They said I sent out 17 e-mails over a period of one month,” Spagnuolo said, “and that was excessive use, according to the city.”
Leal wouldn’t comment on the letter, but he did say city policy does permit employees to make “occasional” personal use of work computers, although he wasn’t sure how that was defined.
As for the phone number of his city-issued cell phone showing up on activist Web sites, Spagnuolo said, “Most of my friends happen to be activists, and they have my cell phone number. ... I can’t control if someone knows my number and puts it down. I can only worry about myself.”
During his his eight-year tenure, Spagnuolo said he has earned “above average” marks in annual reviews. In 1999 and 2001, he said, the city recognized him with Exceptional Performer of the Year plaques, both of which hang on the walls at city hall.
“The idea of taking someone’s life under a microscope, of being so particular about every aspect of my career over the last eight years simply because they don’t like my political speech, is blatantly un-American, and that bothers me,” he said.
The real lesson to be learned, Spagnuolo said, is that the intimidation can happen to anyone.
“I was lucky enough to have a good attorney,” he said. “I feel sorry for an employee who might be put in a similar situation. If so, they might have to give up their civil rights. ... That’s where something like this becomes very scary.”
Spagnuolo still has a civil lawsuit against the city pending in federal court and said he will sit down Monday with his attorney to decide how to proceed.
In April, U.S. District Court Judge Phillip Figa decided to wait until the city concluded its investigation to rule on whether the inquiry was proper.
“We do want a declaration from the federal court that Longmont has violated his First Amendment rights,” said Spagnuolo’s attorney, David Lane.
“His bosses should start feeling uncomfortable,” Lane said, “because Glenn Spagnuolo is now on offense, not on defense.”
Spagnuolo said he will now focus on restoring his reputation. “There’s been a lot of misinterpretation and representation of who I am and what I stand for,” he said. “It’s good that we’re actually going to spend time to better the community instead of defending myself against false accusations.”