The Somerset County technical services director says more than 100 emails sent to county employees this week showing campaign material for a candidate for sheriff has cost the county hundreds of dollars to block and delete.

The disclosure further inflames an already heated race for Somerset County sheriff ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Director Peter Smith said the emails, which appeared to be from the campaign of Kris Mc- Kenna for sheriff, were classified and dealt with as spam and a “very unethical practice,” although McKenna said he had no involvement with the email blast.

Smith said removing the emails from county servers has cost up to $1,000. He said blocking and deleting the emails were done on regular county time, but the time spent kept him from doing other work associated with his job.

About 240 emails also were sent to Skowhegan-area school employees, according to School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry. He said the emails were sent to all district schools and offices.

McKenna, 38, of Skowhegan, is running against Somerset County Chief Deputy Dale Lancaster, 58, of Cornville. The term of office is four years.

CANDIDATE DENIES USING SPAM

In an interview, McKenna, a Waterville police officer, said the emails seem aimed at derailing his campaign by making him appear to be unethical. McKenna said spam emails are not a tactic he would use, especially in light of “the last fiasco,” involving charges against Lancaster by the wife of a friend, reported by the Morning Sentinel.

Those complaints, made to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, led to a Kennebec County sheriff’s captain and McKenna campaign supporter, Dennis Picard, being put on administrative leave, with pay. He is the subject of an internal investigation in connection with emails sent by his wife, Sharon Picard, who used a fake name to tip off media to an election complaint she filed against Lancaster. Sharon Picard had alleged Lancaster violated the federal Hatch Act by using his office to campaign, but federal authorities determined the complaint had no merit.

McKenna said neither he nor his campaign has had anything to do with the email blasts sent to county employees or the schools, which were titled, “Thank You!” with a message saying: “We appreciate the crucial job you do to keep our communities safe,” accompanied by a picture of McKenna and his campaign logo.

“Somebody’s just trying to sink my ship – I don’t know,” McKenna said in an interview, calling it character assassination.

The Morning Sentinel later sent two emails to the sender of the email blasts – identified as Joanne Saucier and using an outlook.com address – but received no response back. Other attempts by the Sentinel to find the Joanne Saucier who sent the emails were unsuccessful.

McKenna said he does not know anyone named Joanne Saucier.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director at the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, said his office investigates the financial side of political campaigns and does not get into campaign ethics in general. He said the email blast does not appear to violate any laws.

“There are restrictions on the use of state-owned computer equipment for campaign purposes, but that is not anything that our office regulates,” he said. “It’s not anything that we have any jurisdiction over. We don’t know who did it or how they did it. I’m not aware that it violates any law that our office administers.”

The email blasts were sent Monday. Smith, the Somerset County technical services director, said there are 254 accounts in the county email system, 105 of which received the email. Some of the accounts are assigned to people, he said, while other email addresses are service accounts.

SENT SLOWLY TO AVOID FILTER

Smith sent an email to county employees Tuesday, saying “we have been spammed by a political candidate running for county sheriff,” and called it “a very unethical practice for someone who feels our time and effort is important.”

He said the addresses could have been easily accessed from the county website. Smith said the emails are considered spam because of their volume and because they were unsolicited, and needed to be blocked.

“We have a powerful spam filter in place to catch the majority of bulk email that meets a specific criteria defined in the filter,” he said. “Occasionally a few squeeze through. Normally I might get a spam, or two or three people (might get a spam) but this was targeting the entire account list. That is unusual.”

Smith said the McKenna emails were handled differently because it is the last few days before the election and because the emails were sent slowly to avoid the filter.

“We have never been subjected to this kind of mass political emailing in the past,” he said. “So it required clarification on process, notification to users, filter re-adjustment and cleanup.”

Smith said his direct supervisor is County Administrator Dawn DiBlasi, not anyone at the sheriff’s department.

“It cost money because of conversations we have to have with employees because they were not expecting to get it. They have some anxiety over it,” Smith said. “Then we have to clean it up. It’s unusual to have campaign ads be targeting government entities.”

He said the servers have to be cleaned because all the emails take up space and simply deleting them from a computer doesn’t get rid of them – which is why Smith has classified them as spam.

“We’re blocking this person that it was sent from and that takes time; but we can’t block outlook.com because other people use that extension,” Smith said. “And we’re blocking anything from McKennaForSheriff.com, so we had to go out and do research on what types of address could be coming from there in case we get another instance of this coming through.”

Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong, who is retiring after 20 years, said he is dismayed at the way the campaign for his post has played out.

In his campaign, Lancaster has highlighted his 40 years in law enforcement, including being a member of the command staff at Maine State Police. McKenna has said in his campaign that Somerset County needs a change of direction and suggested cutting costs by eliminating some personal vehicles and instituting a call-sharing plan with state police troopers.