Rogue or righteous?

Town clerk separates from Town Hall email, computers

technology-300x180The Easton town clerk’s separation from the town computer network is laying bare long-standing friction between himself and First Selectman Thomas A. Herrmann and has caught the attention of auditors.

The separation also is creating confusion and complications within Town Hall because Town Clerk Derek Buckley and the assistant town clerks are no longer monitoring their old email addresses, according to First Selectman Thomas A. Herrmann.

Mr. Herrmann says that Mr. Buckley has “gone rogue” in separating the town clerk’s website and email from the town’s network. “I think, simply put, he’s gone rogue. It sort of paints a picture there’s this rogue network that sort of exists outside the town’s control, per se.”

“It’s hard to understand his adamant refusal to use eastonct.gov,” Mr. Herrmann said. “No one is quite sure what the town clerk is doing, and that’s a big part of the problem.”

But Mr. Buckley said that the separation was done at Mr. Herrmann’s request. He added that other municipal departments, such as fire, police, EMS, the library and parks and recreation, have their own websites and email.

“The separation was suggested by the first selectman as a way to resolve storage problems on the town server,” Mr. Buckley said. “He offered to finance the separation and help with the new system specifications. I agreed because it resolved my data security problems and at the same time enabled me to upgrade computers and address the low vision needs of the visually impaired and seniors.”

Auditors’ concern

In an email responding to concerns from BlumShapiro, the West Hartford firm that audited the town’s financial statements for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, Mr. Buckley wrote, “Coincidentally, the first selectman recommended a separate server to reduce town server data storage, because it was out of capacity. The town clerk agreed that a move to a separate server was the best solution.”

Mr. Herrmann, asked to respond to Mr. Buckley’s comments, said, “Mostly false.”

Mr. Herrmann said he had suggested the town clerk’s office be on a separate server within the town network — not off the town network. “We have two servers on our network in Town Hall. We have got the storage space. We could more than accommodate him,” he said. “I said you can get your own server on our network.”

Mr. Herrmann said the addition of the second server on the town network preceded Mr. Buckley’s “exodus from the reservation.”

“I would welcome him home to the Town Hall local area network,” Mr. Herrmann said.

The two websites for the town clerk’s office — the old one at eastonct.gov and the new one at eastonseniors.com — are quite different.

Earlier this month, information posted at the eastonct.gov address was five years old, links to other websites no longer worked, and, an email sent from The Courier to Mr. Buckley at his eastonct.gov address — the only one for Mr. Buckley that was listed on the town’s website — was not answered. A link to the town clerk’s new website did not appear on eastonct.gov nor did Mr. Buckley and the assistant town clerks’ new email addresses, and Mr. Buckley contends town employees are not using his new email address.

This created a problem as recently as Jan. 22, when Mr. Buckley requested that documents to prepare his office’s 2013-14 budget be sent electronically to his new email address, saying in his email to Mr. Herrmann and town Comptroller Grace Stanczyk, “I cannot submit a budget proposal without them.”

Mr. Herrmann replied later that day that Ms. Stanczyk was out of the office until Feb. 5. “It is my understanding that she did, in fact, email you a copy of the forms to your eastonct.gov email address. If you need help accessing your eastonct.gov email account via webmail, please let me know. Always happy to help,” Mr. Herrmann wrote in reply.

In the recent interview, Mr. Herrmann said Mr. Buckley is able to monitor his old email address at eastonct.gov, but chooses not to do so.

“We host our own email web server. It’s on the town network. Any user can access their eastonct.gov emails,” Mr. Herrmann said. “What’s very confusing and complicated for not only the public but Town Hall is we send email [to the eastonct.gov addresses] but they never retrieve them and never look at them.

“He refuses to look at his eastonct.gov emails,” Mr. Herrmann said. “He has access as anyone does. He’s choosing not to use it.”

Mr. Herrmann said the town had a policy regarding email and Internet access for town employees and that work-related emails are public records. “We don’t want people communicating over gmail and other email addresses for official town business,” he said.

Mr. Herrmann cited and sent to The Courier a town policy entitled “Electronic Mail and Internet Access,” adopted in December 2001 and revised in April 2010, that includes among its nine bullet points the following statement: “All employees must use their eastonct.gov email address for all Town business. No exceptions permitted.”

Mr. Buckley told town employees in an email Dec. 19 that he was not able to monitor his old eastonct.gov address.

“The last remaining computer has been disconnected from the town server and put into storage,” Mr. Buckley wrote. “Effective immediately, the Town Clerk’s office has no way of monitoring the old eastonct.gov addresses. If you wish to communicate by email, you must use the following addresses.” Mr. Buckley then lists the new email addresses for himself and Assistant Town Clerks Joan Kirk and Deborah Szegedi.

Mr. Buckley, though, said in an email to The Courier last week that although it is possible for him to monitor his old email address, it is “an unnecessary waste of resources and has not been implemented. They are not monitored by anybody.”

Asked in an email if he believed he was in violation of the town policy cited by Mr. Herrmann, Mr. Buckley replied that his duties as town clerk “are entirely defined by [state] statute and the Town Clerk does not report to the first selectman.” He wrote that the town clerk has a “personal, financial liability if the statutory duties are not completed.”

“Statutes supersede policies and given a choice, I must follow the statutes,” Mr. Buckley said. He wrote that it would be “a trivial matter” to automatically forward emails from his old email address to his new email address and that the “barrier is human, not technical.”

“It is worth noting that the police department, public works, EMS, senior center, library, fire department and Board of Education do not use eastonct.gov email addresses,” Mr. Buckley said.

Mr. Buckley then forwarded email exchanges on Jan. 25 between himself and Mr. Herrmann about town business that, in Mr. Herrmann’s case, came from an email address associated with his private sector job, and, in Mr. Buckley’s case, from a personal email account.

Core town functions

Mr. Herrmann said the core administrative functions of town government, which he cited as his office, land-use departments, the building department, health department, tax assessor’s office, tax collector’s office and town clerk’s office, are different from other agencies of local government. He said, for example, that the parks and recreation department is not located in Town Hall and the police department “has its own community interest and security requirements.”

The town clerk’s new website, accessible through the Easton Senior Center’s website, includes more up-to-date information than the town clerk’s website on eastonct.gov, though a lot of information had yet to be added last week. It also includes Mr. Buckley’s and the assistant town clerks’ new email addresses.

But Easton residents may be hard-pressed to find that information since neither the address for the town clerk’s new website nor the new email addresses are posted on eastonct.gov.

Mr. Buckley said in an email that he didn’t believe it was a problem for the public to communicate with the town clerk’s office via the Internet because “the transition has been spread over a year or more and people have been gradually educated and responded positively to the change.”

The Courier previously reported of a strained relationship between Mr. Herrmann and Mr. Buckley, but Mr. Herrmann disputed that they did not have a good relationship and said that was not the reason for Mr. Buckley’s separation from the town’s website and email addresses. “We have a fine personal relationship. I enjoy his company. But we have very different visions of the roles and responsibilities of the town clerk’s office,” he said. “It’s all about policy and not personality.”

Mr. Buckley said in an email that the authority and responsibility of municipal government agencies are defined by words whose meaning “is often subject to interpretation.”

“This means that friction at the edges is a normal part of government,” Mr. Buckley wrote.

The town clerk’s separation from the town network followed a lengthy series of issues related to computer problems, server shutdowns and processing purchase orders of new technology, according to emails that Mr. Buckley has catalogued in binders in his office. According to Mr. Buckley, those issues were a factor in his separation from the town network.

The independent electronic setup of the town clerk’s office was noted in a management letter from BlumShapiro, which wrote that “certain town clerk data” was not stored on the town’s computer network.

“Since the town does not control the network where the data is stored, they are unable to ensure appropriate securities and protocols are in place to protect and secure the data including inappropriate access, data backup, virus, and disaster recovery protection,” BlumShapiro’s management letter says. “We recommend ensuring that all town data, public and private, is stored to ensure that it is appropriately secured and accessed with consistent protocols and procedures, as well as backed up as part of the town’s disaster recovery procedures.”

Mr. Buckley responded by saying the town clerk’s data security “far exceeds the minimum statutory requirements and that of the town’s data” and that the town clerk is “the custodian of the data.” He adds that state statutes, not the town of Easton, define “minimum security requirements.”

The security procedures for the town clerk’s data, according to Mr. Buckley’s email, include paper copies in a vault, electronic copies in his office, seven days of on-site hard drive backup, seven days of server hard drive backup, upstate New York electronic backup at the state-mandated auditors, permanent mandated microfilm backup in New Britain and distributed “cloud” backup.

Fred Knopf, chairman of the town’s Board of Finance, didn’t return a call to say if he shared BlumShapiro’s concern about the town clerk’s separation from the town network.

The Connecticut State Library’s Office of the Public Records Administrator requires municipal and state government agencies to retain “electronic messages that document agency functions and provide evidence of agency business” for at least two years. The Public Records Administrator also requires the agency to submit a “records disposal authorization” once the retention period has ended.

“Our retention schedules are format neutral. It doesn’t matter if it’s paper or electronic,” LeAnn Power, the Public Records Administrator, said in a phone interview.

Ms. Power said Mr. Buckley also had to comply with the state statute that identifies public records and files as “any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a public agency, or to which a public agency is entitled to receive a copy by law or contract … whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photo-stated, photographed or recorded by any other method.”

“He’s still under that, even if he has his own website,” Ms. Power said. “He’s conducting town business.”

Mr. Buckley said in an email that his office “rigorously” complies with requirements of the office of the public records administrator.

Mr. Herrmann said it wasn’t clear how Mr. Buckley financed his separation from the town network. Mr. Buckley said in an email that it was financed “entirely from donations.”

“These were not transfers from budget,” Mr. Buckley wrote. He added that he wasn’t concerned about the cost to maintain a website separate from the town network. “I maintain it myself at no cost to the taxpayer,” he wrote.

Mr. Herrmann said the Board of Selectmen will try, and has tried, to prevail upon Mr. Buckley to comply with “the rules and regulations that everyone else complies with.”

“This is something that we need to pursue. The bottom line is it’s just not OK,” Mr. Herrmann said, adding that he is far from the only town official concerned about the town clerk’s office’s separation from the town network. “It just boggles the mind whose interest this is serving.”

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