Another computer audit delay irritates Selectmen

By Jaime Rebhan | Oct 19, 2010

Though it expected the results of a controversial forensic audit of town computers last July, the Board of Selectmen will have to wait once again for the findings.

"[Attorney] Torres was charged with getting a job done. That report wasn't complete. It is now three or four months late," said Selectman Cara Winslow. "I personally think you should fire him in the morning," she told Town Administrator Mark Andrews.

The audit -- initiated by the former Board of Selectmen to uncover suspected unauthorized computer use by town employees, ranging from political blogging to running private businesses on town equipment -- has been in progress for nearly a year and a half. Attorney Steven A. Torres, special counsel for the town, was expected to present the results to the board on October 5, but an illness in his office prevented him from attending, Andrews said that evening. The presentation was rescheduled for this week, but Torres canceled his appearance Tuesday morning.

"I am very upset with Mr. Torres and his approach to this," said Andrews, who did not work for the town when the audit was initiated and was seeking guidance from Selectmen as to how to proceed. "I'm ready to pull the plug on Friday."

Early this year, The Herald News in Fall River reported that Torres was eliminating his private legal practice to become that city's full-time legal counsel. He reportedly said he would complete pending cases for his private practice after work, on weekends, or by taking personal leave.

The Selectmen did not stifle their disappointment with the situation.

"Nobody sitting at the table is happy" that the report was again delayed, said Selectmen Chair Jane Donahue. "We're all on the same page for this one."

Andrews said that Torres indicated that he could make digital documents available to the town on Friday, October 22, and the Selectmen agreed that if he does not deliver those results, someone else will be hired for the job.

Andrews stressed that Torres has not been paid for his work on the audit. "Not one penny has been paid to Mr. Torres on this project," he said.

The Selectmen voted in June to pay an additional $7,500 for the audit, bringing the total cost of the investigation to approximately $53,500.

Andrews said the report would be given to Selectmen in an "executive summary," and that "any individual actions that have to be taken will be taken by the Town Administrator."

Selectman Steve Holmes, citing statements he made in June, stressed that the report should be presented to Selectmen during an open meeting, so taxpayers can see where the money went.

"I want to see the report from the guy [Torres], right there in that chair," Holmes said, pointing to the table where guests speak before the Board.

Andrews said he would not be able to release specific names of town employees for legal reasons. It was decided that the number and severity of violations would be revealed to the public once the report is in-hand.

Results of the audit have been delayed several times. The process began in May 2009, when the Board of Selectmen hired a private computer consulting firm, Global Digital Forensics, to copy town employees' hard drives during a mandatory furlough day.

Employees had no advance notice of the audit, nor were they or the public given a reason for the audit at the time, beyond the desire of the Selectmen to determine if employees were improperly using town computers.

The audit was held up when the Plymouth County District Attorney's office seized the computer disks from Global Digital Forensics, in the wake of outrage expressed by some town employees and citizens regarding the process.

After the Selectmen were found to have violated open meeting laws while discussing the computer audit during two executive sessions, the minutes of the meetings were made public. The minutes revealed that the Selectmen aimed to determine who was blogging on town computers to resident William Whitehouse's generally anti-Selectmen website, warehamobserver.com, whether there were outside businesses being run on town computers, and other information about improper use of town computers.

The DA's office never disclosed its reason for seizing the disks, other than its broad intent to investigate possible criminal wrong-doing. It closed its investigation in January with no finding, and the disks were returned to the town in March.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Michael Jones | Oct 23, 2010 15:15

Why isn't WW covering the IG report?  The report by the Massachusetts Inspector General’s office says the Municipal Maintanance Director acted improperly in approving more than $39,000 in contractor invoices that were not authorized by the terms of the contract between the town and the private contractor.



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