October 26, 2009 By Hilton Collins
In June 2009, officials in Bozeman, Mont., came under fire for requiring the disclosure of private data from applicants angling for city jobs.
On Thursday, June 18, one applicant e-mailed local news outlet KBZK about part of the background check. In order for applicants to be considered for employment, they had to provide Bozeman with a list of their social networking log-in credentials.
A form in the job application asked job seekers to "please list any and all, current or business Web sites, Web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.," according to the news station.
The story ran on-air and the station's Web site. The public outcry was immediate, and Bozeman officials certainly felt the heat, according to City Manager Chris Kukulski. "We primarily got a flood of very -- in some cases, really -- malicious, very attacking e-mails from people all around the country," he said.
The morning after the story broke, Bozeman had a 90-minute staff meeting, after which officials announced that the city was rescinding the policy. Kukulski wrote in a press release that "the extent of our request for a candidate's password, user name or other Internet information appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community. We appreciate the concern many citizens have expressed regarding this practice and apologize for the negative impact this issue is having on the city of Bozeman."
A lot happened in 24 hours, but the commotion didn't end there. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported on July 28 that the City Commission unanimously approved nearly $10,000 for an outside party to investigate the policy and how pervasive it was. The City Commission set an Oct. 1 deadline. The investigation was prompted by an e-mail a city employee sent to the commission claiming that the hiring practice was larger in scope than the city originally let on -- the e-mail claimed that Bozeman also asked potential hires for e-mail and bank account information.
"You got the e-mail, so there's the accusation there. I think the purpose of the investigation is to get to the bottom of it," Kukulski said. "If there is fire behind the smoke, then we want to know what that fire is so we can fix it, resolve it, learn from it, move on. If there's not a fire behind this accusation, then we want to know that too so that we can move on."
Kukulski, however, said the purpose of the investigation wasn't necessarily to discern whether the hiring policy itself was right or wrong, but rather to determine if the city lied to the public and the City Commission about how the policy was executed.
"It really is specific to this individual's comments regarding our overall hiring process and what he believed was not consistent with what we were telling the City Commission and the public," he said.
The investigation was conducted directly for the City Commission, which is composed of Mayor Kaaren Jacobson and commissioners. Kukulski isn't a member of the commission but was interviewed by the investigator.
"I think we're all going to be interested to see what the investigation that they have authorized comes up with," said Scott Crichton, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana. "I think the city has been embarrassed and has backpedaled considerably, and that other people managing city governments are going to watch what comes from the investigation."
Kukulski said he didn't know about the policy