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Salt Lake City spokesman placed on leave during probe of anonymous online political comments

First Published      Last Updated Aug 13 2015 07:37 pm


Art Raymond says he used city computer to write comments while on break.

Art Raymond, the spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, was placed on paid leave Thursday while the city investigates online comments criticizing Becker's campaign rivals Raymond posted anonymously on Salt Lake Tribune stories.

Raymond, 49, acknowledged writing the comments under the pseudonym WhiskeyPete from his city office on the desktop computer assigned to him. He said he wrote the comments in a personal capacity, and that no one working for Becker's re-election campaign, or any of his fellow city employees, asked him to write the comments or knew he was composing them.



"Certainly it's the case that I have engaged my personal avatar, my personal commenting thread, while I work, but only on my break or lunch," Raymond said in an interview with The Tribune on Thursday.

Raymond said he has no designated break or lunch periods.

"Those happen as time warrants," he said.

After that interview, David Everitt, chief of staff for Becker, said Raymond would be placed on administrative leave so the city can investigate whether Raymond violated a state law and a city policy.

"We're going to place him on admin leave and take a look at this out of an abundance of caution," Everitt said.

State law prohibits "an expenditure from public funds for political purposes" and defines "political purposes" as "an act done with the intent or in a way to influence or tend to influence, directly or indirectly, any person to refrain from voting or to vote for or against any candidate or a person seeking a municipal or county office."

Salt Lake City is the only municipality in Salt Lake County to have a mayoral election this year and Becker, who is seeking a third term, has attracted four challengers. The two top vote-getters will emerge from the Aug. 11 primary, which is being conducted by mail-in ballots.

Salt Lake City's own policies say: "... except for de minimus use, employee use of City electronic communication technology not directly related to City business is prohibited."

Raymond pointed to that policy Thursday, even quoting the Latin, and maintained he followed it. He said no one from the city has given him further guidance on how that policy is to be interpreted.

"I think that I retain my right as guaranteed under the First Amendment to have a personal opinion about what goes on in the city I live in and the elected officials that oversee our city," Raymond said.

He added that he has worked hard to distinguish between his city job speaking to reporters on behalf of the mayor and sharing his personal views.

"I believe I've maintained that distinction appropriately," Raymond said.

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Flagged • The Tribune's Web staff discovered Raymond's alias July 23 after a reader flagged one of WhiskeyPete's posts as objectionable. The Tribune employee let the post remain, but noticed the email address WhiskeyPete had used to register included Raymond's full name.

A search of WhiskeyPete's posts showed many of them came from an Internet Protocol address registered to Salt Lake City government. Tribune staff identified six posts on five articles where Raymond supported Becker or disparaged his campaign opponents, and in which the posts were sent during business hours from a city IP address.

One of Raymond's posts targeted former Utah Democratic chairman and state Sen. Jim Dabakis when in the spring he declared himself a candidate for mayor before jumping out a few days later.

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