Davies loves a good debate.
The avid Denver Post reader posted 624 comments in response to articles on the newspaper's website during a nine-month period that started last February -- an average of fifteen comments a week -- on topics ranging from Afghanistan to global warming, campaign finance to Xcel rate hikes. He was generous in appraising other posters' opinions, too, giving 506 "thumbs up" and 207 "thumbs down."
But in recent weeks Davies -- the screen name of Dave Schouweiler, manager of purchasing for the Colorado Department of Corrections -- has become a topic for comment himself. Employees in his office have given Schouweiler's Internet use a thumbs down, complaining that their boss (annual salary: $99,648) spent considerable time during working hours preoccupied with the Post site, in violation of department policy.
"He's not supposed to use state equipment to express his personal opinions," says Bill Scott, who worked in Shouweiler's office and recently retired from the DOC. "We weren't able to get our jobs done. He'd sit on the website instead of reviewing our work. Things that needed his authorization would sit there for days."
Scott says he contacted the department's Inspector General about Schouweiler's "misuse of state equipment," but an investigator told him that the complaint resulted in only a mild reprimand. The department, Scott claims, has a double standard when it comes to disciplining supervisors for behavior that wouldn't be tolerated among front-line employees.
"I saw them fire a corrections officer for one improper e-mail," he says. "I feel like the IG just went along with the boss to keep this from coming to light in these financially constrained times."
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Alison Morgan declines to comment on the investigation, calling it a personnel matter. But she denies that any favoritism was shown to Shouweiler. "We have a set of policies in place," she notes, "and we have the same expectations of all our employees."
Schouweiler says none of his employees complained to him about his Internet use until his supervisor "made me aware of their dissatisfaction" in late November. He hasn't posted since that time, and he adds that some of his posts were done from home or during his lunch break. But a search of the comments at issue indicates that Davies posted frequently during working hours, and Schouweiler acknowledges that DOC policy prohibiting personal use of state computers does not make any exception for lunch breaks.
"I failed to adhere to that policy," he wrote in an e-mail response to Westword. "During that time (February to November) I believed there was no negative impact on my work; however, in hindsight I realize that I was rationalizing to some extent... I regret that my actions have been detrimental to the perception of the DOC Purchasing Office and all the quality work it produces."
Schouweiler maintains that his postings resulted in no significant disruption of his office's productivity. He describes Scott as a "disgruntled former employee" who worked in his office for five months and chose to resign and file his complaint only after being turned down for a raise: "If he truly believed fraud or substantial wrongdoing was occurring, he was obligated to report it sooner than he did."
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"Yes, I'm disgruntled," Scott responds. "I'm a disgruntled taxpayer."
Scott maintains that there was plenty of "slack time" in the office -- yet Schouweiler was seeking to hire another employee, a move that was put on hold after Scott's complaint about his computer use. Schouweiler says the office is currently understaffed and has seen substantial reductions in staff since he took over as manager in 2004.
He declines to discuss the "corrective action" that was imposed as a result of the IG's inquiry -- "suffice to say it was unpleasant," he writes. Scott says he was told that Schouweiler's computer usage would be monitored for four months.