E-mail sparks outrage among Lee County DSS employees

March 3, 2011 5:41:23 PM PST
A single e-mail is sparking outrage among employees at the Lee County Department of Social Services.

DSS Director Brenda Potts admits sending the e-mail to her staff as a reminder not to leave their computers unattended. However, one employee says the e-mail is insulting and racist.

"When I saw it, I was numb," DSS employee Tameka Dowdy said. "I was very insulted."

Dowdy is referring to the image of a man swinging from a tree with a noose around his neck. The image was embedded in an e-mail sent to all DSS employees. It was sent by the agency's director, Brenda Potts, as part of a message reminding employees to keep their computers secured.

"It wasn't the message from the subject that got me, it was the picture," Dowdy said. The image of someone hanging from a tree is what got me."

Dowdy has worked at DSS for several years and says the e-mail from Potts is one of the most insensitive things she's ever seen.

"When I look at that I just don't think about this being an image, but I think about all the people that we've lost. Through the years that were hung by trees," Dowdy said.

Potts works for County Manager John Crumpton. He would not talk to ABC11 Eyewitness News on camera, but in response to an e-mail advising him of the issues, he said in part, "I did not view the e-mail as racist, but of course I am not in the shoes of those that would be offended by this type of picture. Perceptions are reality in the public world, so we all should be more concerned about the impact of what we say and do."

Dowdy says Crumpton seemed more concerned about finding out who leaked the e-mail to the press that addressing the issue it has stirred up.

"That's the first thing he asked was, 'Out of courtesy, I would like to know who it was,' but that's not the issue of who sent the e-mail," Dowdy explained. "The issue is the image that a director that represents your county sent out to her employees."

Crumpton says he forwarded the e-mail to the appropriate person and is letting that person handle the issue with Potts. Meanwhile, Dowdy is hopeful she won't be fired in retaliation for bringing the issue to the public.

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