Beware The E-mail Paper Trail (Jeff Hankins Publisher’s Note)

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 103 views 

Early on, as e-mail correspondence began to escalate, we heard a fairly common warning.

In essence, it was this: Don’t write in an e-mail message anything that you don’t want to become public knowledge.

We’ve seen e-mail correspondence replace telephone calls and snail mail letters in a big way, so most people have chosen to ignore the warning. Love it or hate it, e-mail communication has established itself as a fundamental part of our daily routines and business operations.

The current state government saga involving the firing (or resignation) of Randall Bradford, the former chief information officer for the state, is a good example of how difficult it is to maintain the discipline to avoid the potential problems e-mail messages can cause.

The general warning about e-mail privacy used to focus on hackers who would try to intercept e-mails. State government is a different story because letters, e-mails and other forms of documented communication are subject to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Bradford has used distribution of e-mail messages from the staff of Gov. Mike Huckabee to paint all kinds of pictures regarding problems with the state’s new computer system known as AASIS, the governor’s distrust of state legislators and the inherent politics of state government operations.

Huckabee and his staff have worked overtime to paint Bradford as a cabinet-level official who couldn’t get along with colleagues, received a big salary, enjoyed a lavish office and now has sour grapes over being fired.

This is the stuff election years and politics are made of. I doubt that Bradford had plans to do anything but improve the state’s technology infrastructure when he came on board. He probably underestimated the politics involved, and that was naive on his part.

As with just about any case when there is termination of an employee, rumors abound and it’s hard to know for sure whose details are and aren’t on target regarding relationships and performance.

The troubling part in this case is that it’s a major setback for an already problematic state computer system. The fundamental computer backbone of Arkansas is deeply mired in politics, and resolution of the problems is almost guaranteed to be delayed.

* * *

Scott Ford’s ascension to chief executive of Alltel Corp. in Little Rock is no surprise. Furthermore, it’s a just reward for proving himself during the past five years.

Ford’s arrival from Stephens Inc. wasn’t well received in some circles and led to some departures from people who saw the writing on the wall. He had worked alongside Stephens Chairman Jack Stephens, a major Alltel stockholder, who suggested to CEO Joe Ford that son Scott be placed in an executive position with the company.

So with the Stephens blessing, he jumped into the situation. Even if Scott Ford didn’t feel the need to prove himself, he was definitely under a microscope.

Alltel has grown remarkably since that time. Major acquisitions and expansions in the wireless arena have elevated Alltel’s role in the telecommunications sector, while other initiatives like launching residential wire line service haven’t succeeded. The company reorganized drastically to reflect the changing telecom environment. Alltel Information Services continues to make money but isn’t the company driver that it used to be in the aftermath of bank consolidation.

I have to note that one of the smartest decisions someone made over at Alltel a couple of years ago was to sell off its major stock holdings in WorldCom, which tanked in June.

Unlike WorldCom, which is so dependent on the commodity long-distance business, Alltel is positioned as a diverse telecommunications operator. Scott Ford and his father have assembled a strong team that can build on its success and isn’t afraid to make changes to adapt to the fast-changing communications market.

If you’re in Joe Ford’s shoes, you have to be pleased to know you’re turning over the reins of a company you’ve worked so hard to build to someone you trust and believe in implicitly.