From a government office, a tweet that said too much

The Tarrant County emergency management office warned residents Thursday morning about an impending threat.

The notice involved our "safety and security."

So what was the hazard? An epidemic? Chemical spill? Toxic gas?


County political campaign.

Apparently, the emergency was that Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley of Hurst has an opponent.

"Judge [Glen] Whitley is up for re-election," emergency management Coordinator Melissa Patterson announced on Facebook and Twitter pages under "Official Tweets of the Tarrant County Office of Emergency Management."

"Please come out and show your support!" she wrote.

That's no emergency. But it might skirt close to being a crime.

Election law bars public employees from using our money, time or property to campaign.

County administrators said Thursday that they will investigate Patterson's use of a smartphone.

(They said the Facebook and Twitter pages actually belong to her, not taxpayers. Yes, even though the pages are named "Tarrant Co OEM" and the Twitter page had the county seal and was marked "Official Tweets.")

Patterson said she was "just riding down the road and everybody had their signs up, and I just wanted to post something."

County Administrator G.K. Maenius said the use of a county smartphone to post on what looked like a government Web page "shows a lapse of professionalism. ... When it appears we're using our position to foster a campaign -- that's absolutely wrong."

Whitley didn't return a message.

His opponent, associate minister Richard Clough of Kenneth Copeland Ministries' Eagle Mountain International Church, wasn't surprised.

"What do you expect?" he asked. "She has to work up there. Those people are going to say they support him."

Adam Schiffer, an associate professor of political science at TCU, called the message a new twist on an old problem.

"This is not any different from a county employee putting a sign in their office window," he said. "People may think that the new media have changed the rules. But this is still electioneering under the name of the office. These ethical lines aren't blurry."

In Houston, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and commissioners wrote a strict ethics code against employee campaigning.

When spokesman Joe Stinebaker heard Patterson's post, he replied, "Holy cow!"

Stinebaker said it would be a "clear-cut violation" of Harris County's ethics code: "How she can justify that is really beyond me."

I think she can expect storms ahead.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.


Twitter @budkennedy