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Miller downplays use of borough computers

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

Joe Miller is downplaying his use of Fairbanks North Star Borough computers for partisan political purposes in 2008 and hasn't decided whether to appeal a judge's ruling that the borough must release his employment records at 4 p.m. today.

The Republican U.S. Senate nominee minimizes the incident, which violated the borough's ethics policy, and is charging that Sen. Lisa Murkowski did something similar by sending campaign e-mails to Alaska school district addresses in 2004. The Murkowski campaign argues that doesn't compare to what Miller did.

Former Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker said earlier this month that Miller used borough computers in a failed 2008 attempt to oust state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich. Miller first refused to answer questions from the press about it, then acknowledged he had been disciplined.

"It is true, during a lunch hour I did get on borough computers and I participated in a private poll for about five minutes. It was a mistake I made; I was suspended for three days or received a dock of three days' pay. I've learned from that," Miller said during the KTUU television debate in Anchorage Sunday night.

But it appears as though Miller, as a part-time employee, was not entitled to a lunch hour. Miller "did not get a lunch hour at the borough," his supervisor, Fairbanks North Star Borough Attorney Rene Broker, said in an interview.

Borough Human Resources Director Sallie Stuvek said Miller typically worked a 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. shift. Miller shared an office at the borough with another part-time attorney who worked an 8 a.m. until noon shift, she said. However, on the March 2008 date that appears to be the day when Miller improperly used the computers, he wrote an e-mail to another attorney saying, "I should be in before lunch today." He didn't say why he was coming in early.

APPEAL DEADLINE LOOMS

Miller described the computer incident on Fox News Sunday as a "situation that arose several years ago where, during my lunch hour, I voted in a poll, a political poll, a private poll." Miller said the lunch hour question would be cleared up by his employment records that a judge ordered this weekend to be released.

But the judge gave Miller until 4 p.m. today to decide if he would continue to fight disclosure of the records by appealing to the Alaska Supreme Court. Miller's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, said Monday that "the matter is still under advisement. "

"Joe is conferring with his attorney to see if an appeal is even necessary," said Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto.

Superior Court Judge Winston Burbank didn't order the release of all the records sought in the lawsuit by media organizations.

Burbank said about two dozen documents shouldn't be released for privacy and other reasons and that medical information in some documents should be blacked out.

MURKOWSKI'S 2004 E-MAIL

Murkowski, who is running a write-in campaign after losing to Miller in the August Republican primary, hammered him on the borough computer issue at Sunday's debate in Anchorage. Murkowski said it was one reason he was "not fit" to be a senator.

Miller brought up Murkowski's own past computer problem during the debate.

"You were involved yourself with computer use in 2004, where you sent out thousands of e-mails on a school district computer system. Illegal. And yet you use the same standard for me," Miller said.

He was talking about a spam message that Murkowski's campaign staff sent in 2004 to the e-mail addresses of thousands of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau school district employees. Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau expressed outrage at the time, citing the district's policy against using its computer network for partisan political activities.

The Murkowski campaign said it got the e-mail addresses from the school district's website and initially insisted there was nothing wrong with the message.

But Murkowski subsequently apologized, saying that "my campaign made a mistake."

ERASED CACHES?

Murkowski campaign spokesman Steve Wackowski argued Monday that there's no comparison with what Miller did at the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

"Hacking into four of his co-workers' computers, illegally voting in a poll and then trying to cover up his tracks doesn't compare to this," Wackowski said.

Mike Rostad, a Miller supporter from Kodiak, sent an e-mail this month to Alaska Republicans quoting Miller's father, Rex Miller, telling him that Miller "emptied the cache files on the computers so the users wouldn't know what he had done. When the users asked what had happened to their caches (Miller) admitted to what he did."

The Miller campaign won't confirm or deny that account of what happened.


By SEAN COCKERHAM
scockerham@adn.com