It's less than a month into the New Year, and already a mayor of a major American city finds himself embroiled in an office romance scandal. This time it's Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who denied under oath that he had an affair with top aide Christine Beatty and is now confronted with dozens of goopy love texts Beatty had on her city-issued pager.
What was the mayor thinking?
First off, memories of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky should have entered Kilpatrick's head (or at least the head of one his advisors) before he lied under oath about his doings in the bedroom. But as mayor of a major American city, he might be expected to have had the smarts to realize email is not private.
Putting aside for a moment how all this came out -- the testifying happened during a police whistle-blower lawsuit and the texts were made public after the Detroit Free Press got hold of them through some method they're not divulging -- the fact remains that it is simple stupidity to fail to recognize that the emails, IMs, and texts you send as an employee are not your property. And not to bash a certain New York mayor who happens to be a presidential candidate, these communication means and the other resources afforded you by your office are not yours to use for romantic pursuits. Anyone who can't - -or won't -- recognize that fact deserves to have his competence questioned by the electorate that put him there.
People fall in love on the job. Unfortunately, some of them are married to others when it happens. We won't get into the morality of extramarital office romances or the implications therein. But as we discovered when we researched our book Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding -- and Managing -- Romance on the Job, there are still people out there operating under the mistaken impression that these communication methods are private. They're not. They're company property, and, like a diamond, they are forever. Whether you're a single person perfectly free to pursue a single colleague in your department or a mayor who thinks he's above, well, everything, making a permanent and public record of your liaison is utter folly.
Kilpatrick may be comforted to know he is in such formerly well-respected mayoral company as San Francisco's Gavin Newsom, who lost his chief of staff after it was revealed that he once had a fling with the top aide's wife, and Los Angeles' Antonio Villaraigosa, who took off his wedding ring while he was romancing Spanish television news reporter Mirthala Salinas, whose job it was to -- and we hate to say it -- cover the mayor. But it's an ignominous distinction at best.
We recommend another method of communication for office romancers, whatever their rank or marital status. It's called speaking. In person. It may be low-tech, but at least you can't print it out.