CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- County Manager Harry Jones this afternoon apologized for forwarding an email sent by a resident critical about alleged misspending at the Department of Social Services to the man's employer.

Jones said he apologized to the resident, Harry Lomax, on the telephone earlier today and the two agreed to meet in the near future.

He said there have been several media reports about the email and understandably heated public reaction to my response. But Jones said there have been several misconceptions about the email, and apologized to Lomax for the confusion.

I want to be very clear that there was never any malicious intent in my action, Jones said at an afternoon meeting with county commissioners. But it was wrong for me to send a copy of Mr. Lomax's email to his employer.

The incident was the subject of an article in Sunday's Observer, and the emails were obtained from the county through an open records request about the reports of misspending and accounting lapses at DSS.

Some commissioners and ethics experts previously said the actions by Jones and the bank official were improper because they could stifle free speech and blur the lines between employment and citizenship.

On July 7, Lomax sent his e-mail to commissioners, Jones, DSS Director Mary Wilson and County Finance Director Dena Diorio. He wrote that he had planned to speak during a commissioners meeting the same day at the urging of Commissioner Neil Cooksey.

Lomax wrote that he left before speaking and decided to e-mail his comments.

The e-mail criticizes county management for failing to prevent accounting failures and accuses some commissioners of a flippant, hands-off response to the issue. There seems to be a need for a wholesale cleanup of many county agencies, and I think that starts from the top down, Lomax wrote.

A week after receiving the e-mail, Jones forwarded the e-mail to Lomax's employer, Bank of America, and wrote, Do you know Harry Lomax.

Betty Turner, a Bank of America vice president replied to Jones about one hour later, writing that she was embarrassed by Lomax's e-mail.

I am tracking it down. I don't know him - I have alerted charles. Will be back to you, she wrote.

It's unclear how Jones knew Lomax worked at Bank of America. Lomax sent his message from a personal account and did not mention the bank by name.

Jones previously did not respond to interview requests from the Observer. A county spokesman referred a reporter to a statement the county released, but it does not directly address questions about Lomax's e-mail.

Nicole Nastacie, a spokeswoman for Bank of America, said on their personal time, employees are free to express personal opinions to government officials about any issue that is not related to the company.

Betty Turner, the bank's government liaison who responded to Jones, suspected that Lomax's e-mail involved issues related to the bank and appropriately looked into the situation, Nastacie said. When she determined Lomax was speaking as a private citizen, there were no further discussions, Nastacie said.

Lomax declined to comment.

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