For more than a year, in East Hampton, a good deal of press (or online blogging) and a steady stream of ‘He Said-She Said’ Letters to the Editor have been sparked by emails and reports and other supposedly confidential documents that have been “leaked” to the news media and/or slipped under someone’s door.
While different factions debate the importance of the contents of these documents and argue over who should be fired – or maybe stoned in the public square — to appease the outraged citizens, a larger question is being ignored.
How is this information being accessed?
How does someone get a town employee’s performance record? Why aren’t these records secure?
And how does that person get away with releasing it to the media and/or town residents?
Can anyone access town computers?
Recently, some lurid emails in which Sgt. Garritt Kelly and a woman discussed meeting up for sex were printed from his Blackberry and sent through the U.S. mail to the media.
How does someone have access to another employee’s Blackberry?
Unless the emails were “leaked” by the woman setting up the rendezvous – who possibly never intended to meet – then how did a town employee get into someone else’s account?
And who else did the “hacker” give those copies to and for what purpose?
Likewise, the attorney representing Sgt. Michael Green – who is awaiting the outcome of more than one internal investigation of allegations against him – has emailed what looks like faxed copies of emails allegedly between Sgt. Kelly and another police officer in which they promise to push Sgt. Green out of his job, one way or another.
And of course, there are the emails sent by Chief Reimondo – dug up from about two years ago – that were slipped under former Interim Town Manager Robert Drewry’s door, that were also given to a former Town Council member, who chose to show them at a public meeting.
These emails contained highly inappropriate racist jokes and images and had been circulated to other town staff. Drewry directed Reimondo to receive appropriate training and the police chief met with and apologized to members of the NAACP.
How not to conduct a performance review
Most recently, the document being passed around is a performance review of Chief Reimondo – who almost lost his job a little over a year ago on the whim of a former Town Manager who was subsequently pressured (he says) into resigning… and who left town with a hefty sum of money to do so.
Erik Hesselberg reports in the Courant that this “Notice of Job Performance Concerns and Opportunity to Respond” was written by Acting Interim Town Manager Anne McKinney.
And the story states that it is dated Nov. 2. 2011 – which is about 37 days after McKinney was approved by the Town Council (on Sept. 27) to fill in for about two months while Interim Town Manager John Weischel recovered from surgery.
The Courant reports that this personnel document was slipped under Reimondo’s door while he was absent on medical leave. And that it was then taken and passed to reporters by a police officer.
Has anyone reading this ever had a performance evaluation slipped under his or her door?
Isn’t it normal procedure to ask for a meeting with the employee, discuss the items in the performance review with the employee face to face, and then give him or her a reasonable amount of time in which to respond in writing so that the information becomes part of that record – which is then stored in a secure fashion?
What’s especially puzzling is that this personnel document reportedly was slipped under an office door by a former probate judge (or she told someone else to do so?), who should be aware of the confidential nature of personnel documents.
The other question that arises is that while the Town Council did direct McKinney to look into delays in completing the internal investigations of Sgt. Green, why would this generate a performance review by a temporary employee (McKinney) of another employee of more than 25 years (Reimondo) that she had overseen for slightly more than a month?
Does anyone know the rules?
In the meantime, Chief Reimondo is also being accused of disclosing what should have been confidential information about someone who was turned down for the job of East Hampton Animal Control Officer, which is part of the police department.
That person is de facto working in that capacity now, since East Hampton has a contract sharing Animal Control services with East Haddam.
Doesn’t anyone in East Hampton know the rules around confidential documents?
Previously, some embarrassing conversations between former Town Council members were made public by the Courant as the result of a Freedom of Information request for copies of their personal emails discussing council business, but those disclosures were the outcome of a normal and perfectly legal procedure.
So, the question remains, how is someone (or more than one person) getting into password protected email accounts?
How secure is the town of East Hampton’s records – of all kinds – if it’s this easy to print out someone else’s emails, or take iPhone photos of a computer screen displaying someone’s personal email on a work computer?
Following the revelation that former Town Manager Jeffrey O’Keefe had his computer system configured so that it didn’t save copies of emails he sent (and he was later allowed to take his work computer home during a “vacation”), the town was supposed to have reviewed and improved policies for use of email by town employees.
The employee handbook was updated. And Town Council members were assigned email addresses linked to the town system and directed to do all their council-related communication using those addresses.
Apparently, however, no one has reviewed the town’s email security.
Two more years of this?
And this latest round of leaked documents doesn’t bode well for the newly-elected council’s ability to work together cooperatively.
The residents of East Hampton apparently can look forward to two more years of council members spending time monitoring and decrying each other’s actions, and clashing over police department issues, to the detriment of addressing other town business.
Unfortunately, council member Susan Weintraub’s recent actions – even if well meant – regarding Acting Interim (temporary) Town Manager McKinney has fueled the fire.
It probably doesn’t help that Weintraub asked Weischel to come back (and McKinney to transition out) shortly after this performance review was generated by McKinney.
Even other Chatham Party members (i.e. Glenn Suprono) weren’t happy with Weintraub making a significant decision without first consulting all of the council members.
Speaking of which, the HTNP story about this issue (posted on Nov. 10) didn’t include comments by McKinney. I heard about the issue at about 4 p.m. and town offices were closed early that Thursday because of the Veteran’s Day holiday, so she couldn’t be reached there, and she wasn’t scheduled to work at Town Hall on Monday, Nov. 14.
Three messages from HTNP (me) were left over the course of 4 days on the McKinneys’ home voicemail, and Melissa Engle (who I spoke with directly) was asked to convey a message requesting a cell phone number for McKinney and/or a return call.
As of Nov. 20, none of those calls have been returned.
Whistle-blower or dirty politics?
While it’s clear that inappropriate or illegal behavior on the part of any town employee, including the police chief – or any member of a board of commission – should be reported to the appropriate point person and dealt with according to the town’s policies, or state law if necessary… when it comes to stealing, photocopying and distributing confidential documents and compromising the town’s security, this too is a serious offense.
At the same time, leaking documents to the press isn’t something new. In fact, there are times that being a “whistle-blower” has been of great benefit to all of us.
If it’s done in the interests of the greater good, it can result in ending harmful practices such as illegally disposing of nuclear waste, putting toxic substances in consumer products, dumping waste in waterways, or abusing residents of nursing homes, to name just a few examples.
While some of the information that has been leaked in East Hampton could be seen in that light (i.e., asking a potential sex partner to come to your office and providing her with a lie to justify the visit), the flavor of the ensuing discussion – if it can even be called that – has been less than noble and smacks more of a feud between warring clans. A war with no end in sight.
Overshadowing the real East Hampton
This feud creates a dark cloud over the town of East Hampton that is demoralizing for many of its residents – they will tell you that, themselves.
And it paints a less-than-positive picture to the rest of the state of what I have come to know in the three-plus years HTNP has been covering events in East Hampton to be a great little town with a great deal going for it.
Does East Hampton really want to be known as “that town where they’re always fighting” or worse, “that town where everyone’s corrupt?”
Instead, how can it be better known for the community spirit evidenced in wonderful activities such as Old Home Days, the Capt. Grizzy Boat Parade, the Poker Run or the Yellow Ribbon activities?
Or the accomplishments of its students, athletic teams, music groups, budding artists and actors, churches and civic groups, business groups, fraternal organizations and many other volunteers, as well as many hard-working, professional, town staff and employees?
That’s really up to the good people of East Hampton.
They can take sides in the “feud” and keep it going. Or they can tell their town leaders to find ways to address problems, investigate complaints and settle their differences with actions that are above-board and legal, and with language that is mutually respectful. They don’t have to like each other… they just need to know the rules, apply them equitably to everyone and get on with town business.
Posted Nov. 20, 2011
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