Controversial e-mail by Gray appointee to get 'full airing' at hearing

Confirmation hearing for Gray appointee will address her action

bfortune@herald-leader.comJanuary 20, 2011 

Questions about a controversial e-mail sent by Lexington Commissioner of Social Services Beth Mills will get "a full airing" at Mills' confirmation hearing on Feb. 1, Urban County Councilman George Myers said Wednesday.

Mills sent an e-mail to friends from her work account at the University of Kentucky in 2006 that shows the behind of an overweight black woman and goes on to talk about the dangers of eating too much bacon grease.

Myers declined to comment on the e-mail Wednesday but said in an earlier response to a city employee who brought the matter to his attention he was "deeply saddened, shocked and hurt" by the e-mail.

"I just now looked at the photo, and after reading the caption I am getting sick to my stomach," Myers wrote Jan. 10 in an e-mail to Kay Selter, a social worker in the Division of Adult Services who said she found the e-mail offensive and unprofessional.

Mayor Jim Gray is standing behind his decision to hire Mills, who was a faculty member in the College of Social Work and previously had worked for the city, serving six years as director of the senior citizen center and eight years as director of the Division of Adult Services.

"Beth has my support, and she'll be an excellent commissioner of social services," Gray said in a statement. "She has acknowledged the e-mail and regrets sending it. Unfortunately, anyone who uses e-mail has probably sent something they wish they hadn't."

Mills described the incident as "a lapse in judgment."

"It was one mistake," she said Wednesday. "I don't think you will find a pattern of those mistakes."

Mills said the e-mail was sent to her five years ago by a black friend. She forwarded it to several friends from her UK e-mail account. One of those was a city employee who, in turn, sent it to Selter.

Selter said the photograph was in poor taste, had racial overtones and should not have been sent by Mills on her UK computer. If the woman in the photograph had been white, Selter said, it would have been equally offensive.

"I'm not a prude, but it was offensive," she said. "It was unprofessional" and reflected poorly on the social work profession.

At the time, Mills received a verbal reprimand from Kay Hoffman, dean of the College of Social Work.

In her reprimand, Hoffman said she told Mills "this was really a bad thing. This is not who you are."

Hoffman has since written a letter of recommendation that accompanied Mills' application for the commissioner's job.

"She is a good and kind person," Hoffman said Wednesday of Mills. "I cannot imagine a racist view in her world."

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251

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