Updated 2/23: Executive session minutes discuss purpose of computer audit

By Jaime Rebhan | Feb 22, 2010

The recently released minutes of a May executive session meeting of the Board of Selectmen indicate that the purpose of their audit of town employees' computers was to find out who was blogging on town computers to Wareham resident William Whitehouse's generally anti-Selectmen website, who is spending business time on the internet, "who is investigating" the Selectmen, if there are outside businesses being run on town computers, information about "the double log versus the private log at the police station," and who is performing criminal records and other searches for information about Selectmen and George Coleman of the Onset Crime Watch.

The executive session minutes have been made public records as required by the Plymouth County District Attorney's office, as a remedy of open meeting law violations. A Dec. 4 letter from Assistant District Attorney Mary Lee stated that the Board violated the law because it "failed to confine its discussions in executive session to the purpose of investigating potential criminal activity by discussing topics ... outside the scope of purpose."

Selectman John Cronan, contacted Friday morning, said the audit was prompted initially by the complaints of two people who said "they were being criticized and insulted on a website and they [felt] that it was coming from the Town Hall." One of those people was Town Clerk Mary Ann Silva, who said a racial slur was posted about her on the website, Cronan said.

"We felt that we should find out who was using their computers to log on" to the website, Cronan said.

The Selectmen then decided to see how much time employees are spending on their computers doing activities that are not work-related, Cronan said.

"If someone comes in and they're running a business out of their computer at work or they're doing their own online banking, if they're purchasing things, you know, how much of that time are we paying them?," said Selectman Brenda Eckstrom, contacted Thursday night. "That's not fair to the residents."

Eckstrom added: "The overwhelming number of employees that we have are awesome and they're hardworking and they go above and beyond on a regular basis."

According to the minutes, during the Tuesday, May 26, 2009 session, Town Moderator John Donahue asked if town counsel would represent him in his defense of a lawsuit from Whitehouse, who runs the website www.warehamobserver.com. The Board of Selectmen voted to give Donahue counsel if the case goes forward. Selectman Jane Donahue, John Donahue's wife, recused herself from the vote.

Asked about that suit this week, Selectman Donahue explained that Whitehouse had filed a complaint against Moderator Donahue after Donahue questioned him about bringing an "unauthorized camera" into the auditorium at Town Meeting, but the matter did not result in a court case.

During the executive session, the Board was updated about the investigation of town employee computer hard drives, which were audited the Friday before the meeting. Town counsel said then-police chief Thomas Joyce, Jr. was concerned about confidential information contained on six detectives' hard drives. Representatives from the consulting group that was conducting the audit updated the Board on the number of computers left to copy and the Board discussed costs of the audit.

According to Town Administrator Mark Andrews, who provided invoices from the consulting group this week, the total cost of the audit thus far is $46,000.

The minutes report that the board also discussed "double" police logs, but no explanation is provided. In an e-mail exchange this week, Selectman Donahue said allegations that separate police logs existed came from several sources within the police department, and that the matter has not yet been resolved.

The Board received another audit update during the June 2, 2009, executive session, according to the minutes. Interim Town Administrator John Sanguinet stated that all but two computers had been copied for audit and asked if those two should be audited. The Board agreed that they should. The Board also discussed the possibility of implementing new computer procedures and protocols.

In the wake of outrage expressed by some town employees and citizens, the district attorney's office seized the disks containing audit information from the consulting group. The DA's office never disclosed its reason for seizing the disks other than its broad intent to investigate possible criminal wrong-doing. The DA's office has since closed its investigation with no finding in regards to the Board of Selectmen. A letter was received Jan. 13 indicating that the disks would be returned, with 15 going straight to the police because they contain confidential information. There is no additional information about the DA's investigation available at this time.

Andrews said that not addressing concerns about how employees are using town equipment could put the town at risk if it were named in a lawsuit due to improper activities being carried out on town equipment.

"Understanding what is on the disks is an important level of insurance," Andrews said.

Eckstrom said not all computers had been audited at the time the DA's office seized the disks.

Once the disks are returned, "I can tell you, as one member of the board, I want to ask each other again, 'How do we want to proceed?'," Cronan said.


Comments (10)
Posted by: Doctor Deekas | Feb 19, 2010 09:44

And why should we leave out in the article that the Inspector General of the State of MA took the audited computer drives, because the DA wouldn't release them after many requests by our Town? Will there be another article if the IG's office finds something?

Posted by: rbrady | Feb 19, 2010 16:30

"The recently released minutes of a May executive session meeting of the Board of Selectmen indicate that the purpose of their audit of town employees' computers was to find out who was blogging on town computers to Wareham resident William Whitehouse's generally anti-Selectmen website ..."

Tens of thousands of dollars for a WITCH HUNT !  Wareham has become "government by blog".  Am I alone here or would there have been a way to address this ASSUMPTION in house for a lot less money and embarrassment ? 


Hey, Charter Review Committee, let me guess, this is all Town Meeeting's fault ? Sarcasm ?  Most definitely.  Our "Form of Government" is not broke.                Our elected officials are.


C'mon April 6th...


Posted by: Phillip vary | Feb 19, 2010 16:55

Yes If something is found by the IG's office investigation I would agree that it sould be published. On the same line though it would also be fair if it turns out that there is no wrongdoing found by the IG's investigation then that should be printed as well. Fair is Fair it is always sad to me when News outlets print stories where accusations are levied. These stories always make the front page, Why not it sells papers. The problem is often times when the story is found to have no merit there is no apolgy or retraction story printed by the same paper that printed the story in the first place. If a retraction is offered it is almost never on the front page but buried in the back where no one would look for it. By that time  the damage has already been done and someones reputation destroyed.

Posted by: larry mcdonald | Feb 19, 2010 19:26

I think there is a giant leap from shopping online to corruption. If the IG clears the former library trustees and finds little more than blogging or shopping online, I think we have killed the mouse with a bazooka. If the good Doctor is right, and there is corruption, then the offenders should be punished. However, if nothing significant is found, we have a serious case of poor management decisions and lack of fiscal responsiblity. So, good Docter D, should we hold the Selectmen and Interim TA accountable? $100k to find out who is blogging and shopping is not prudent in the current economic situation.

Posted by: frogsrule | Feb 20, 2010 12:01

Doctor D, just for clarification, the IG's office did NOT take the discs or order their return. I called them personally and they said they did no such thing. You can't believe everything you read. The IG's office is investigating a formal complaint made by an individual regarding the library and the municipal maintenance department, that is their only interest. In addition, the administrator of the blog where the offensive comment was made posted the identity of the blogger who made it and it wasn't a town employee nor was the IP address a town IP address.

I agree, if anyone is doing something illegal or taking advantage of a position of trust they should be dealt with swiftly and appropriately, but to date there is no evidence that any claim made has any merit. Let's not forget that we are all innocent until proven guilty. This idea that everyone is guilty and corrupt because someone else says so is perpetuating a poison in the community. Damaging the reputations of some of our most generous and up-standing citizens and will serve to cause more harm in the long run.

If I was one of those generous souls who has given so freely of time and money I would seriously reconsider if that investment is worth it for me after my name and reputation had been dragged through the mud. Our community needs that generosity, and I am personally grateful to those who have given so much.

Posted by: Phillip vary | Feb 20, 2010 16:13

Very well said Frogs. I couldn't agree more.

Posted by: frogsrule | Feb 22, 2010 11:13

Last night during a private chat session I was accused of making up the fact that I called the IG"s office, let it be known that I did call the IG investigator (who told me they made no order of the DA) and anyone who says I didn't isn't checking their facts. Don't accuse private citizens of being liars, especially when you have no idea who you are talking about.

Posted by: Doctor Deekas | Feb 22, 2010 11:22

And so the volunteerism and dragging through the mud may extend to the BOS position in Wareham. After all, what is the real 'gain' of the position? There is no pay, and from most accounts from all of the meetings and appearances needed, it would appear as though the volunteers PAY the town to be in the position (gas, time, etc.). Could this be why it is so difficult to get good people to run and/or keep good people in the seats that did run at one point? Outside of personality perception, it is an important aspect that should be looked at.

Posted by: frogsrule | Feb 22, 2010 18:49

Good point Doctor D, if my memory serves me correct the BOS paid a stipend at one point which Town Meeting voted away when it became apparent that benefits such as health insurance had to be offered as well.

It would be nice if there was a way to reimburse for expenses incurred at least.

Posted by: frogsrule | Feb 23, 2010 07:11

More clarification, the IG did not disclose any information about its investigation other then to say that they did not order the return of the discs and they are only interested in information about the library and municiple maintenance, they received a formal complaint. That is pretty standard response for them. Can someone point out where I claimed I received some type of "insider info"?

To help enlighten the unenlightened, I placed a call to the IG on behalf of a client regarding the discs (yes BOS, the potential for litigation has only just begun) and asked why they ordered the return since they have no jurisdiction over that matter. The IG's office investigates fraud, waste, etc. Now, if someone believes the DA is "corrupt" that needs to go to the AG or the Department of Justice (sorry the phones will be ringing off the hook today!).

The IG was very pleasant, offered a standard clarification, and that was that. For those who do not understand how this whole game works, making allegations about embezzlement, double police logs, refusing to comply with orders of the DA as a matter of strategy. Each of these allegations should have been reported to the proper authority for proper investigation. It is irresponsible to believe that the IG/AG/FBI/CIA/Fox News reads Wareham newspapers, or papers from any of the other 351 communities in the Commonwealth.

On to the identity of the blogger, out of respect for this publication (which I think is wonderful, community based NEWS) I will not post the information here. However, I will make a few calls to have the thread bumped up for all to see. Personally, I don't care if the blogger is embarrassed, they should be, it is just that type of behavior that keeps certain individuals on a mission of destruction.

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