Selectman Martha Gjesteby says town manager’s actions “chilling”

Selectman Martha Gjesteby read the following prepared statement to her board at its May 7th meeting.  Following discussion and debate, selectmen voted 5-0 to discuss with town counsel the town manager’s recent action of entering Selectman Gjesteby’s town email account without her knowledge and then telling her she had to provide him with correspondence from her private email account.

Gjesteby’s statement

 Yesterday my husband and I met with the Acting Town Manager as a follow-up to emailed communication to me from the Manager of last week. That email was copied to you, Mr. Chairman, and to you, my other colleagues.

The communication disclosed to me for the first time that the Acting Town Manager had directed the Town’s Information Technology Director to inspect and read email addressed to my town email account. He caused that effort to occur by improperly directing the IT staff person to access the Town’s email server, and bypassing my password.

The Acting Town Manager took this action without prior notice to me, and without requesting my permission. He took this action without a vote of this Board. He appears to have taken this action without seeking the opinion of Town Counsel. This type of behavior is unprecedented in my memory, having served Cohasset in elected office since the 1980s.

I cannot accept this action by the Acting Town Manager as being proper under our frame of government. We are a government of laws, not of men.

Mr. Chairman, colleagues, and citizens of Cohasset watching from home around the Town tonight, I ask you: How can this type of behavior by the Chief Administrative Office of our community can ever be right?

I ask you how this can be allowed to happen in our community. We are the chief elected officials of the Town. We serve at the pleasure of our fellow citizens. It is a breach of our democratic form of government to have an appointed official survey elected officials’ email without authority or notice.

This improper action by the Acting Town Manager clearly puts a chilling effect on the ability and the right of citizens to communicate with their elected representatives – a right protected by the Constitution itself.

Must we at all times comply with the state Public Records Law (MPRL)? Of course we must. Of course we do. That is not the point.

The point is this: There must be procedures in place. Those procedures that must be followed regarding authorization, notice, and the right of an official to claim an exemption under the MPRL.

The Acting Town Manager cannot second-guess the legal direction of counsel. He cannot breach my rights, or yours. Mr. Chairman, I move that this matter be referred to Town Counsel for suggested action.

The conclusion of Gjesteby’s statement

 Acting town manager Mike Milanoski updated the board on his role in accessing Gjesteby’s email, saying he was utilizing standard procedure. He said he had spoken with town counsel and the supervisor of public records. At some point he said Gjesteby sent off several letters, yelled at him and threatened him, saying she would sue the town if he continued moving forward. He said he was again accosted by Mrs. Gjesteby Monday morning.

Gjesteby told her board that she had been having problems with her server at town hall for some time. On April 19th she called in her own IT person who told her that her password to her town account had been attached, and that some form of pishing may have occurred. Gjesteby told Tinytown Unleashed that she was concerned that certain persons were about to have some fun with her and her account by sending out e-mails that would have affected the upcoming election, particularly when citizen Chris Allen’s request for emails seem to revolve around people running for office.

“I am afraid all year-long people have been looking at my computer,” Gjesteby said.

Milanoski denied that he had any assess to Gjesteby’s computer but then said that his IT person did have assess to her account through the server, and the IT had gathered emails from her account through the server, after-all.

Gjesteby said that Selectman chair Paul Carlson and Milanoski told that that they didn’t have to tell her that a request for information had been filed.

Milanoski said Gjesteby had been notified.

Gjesteby said she had asked Milanoski to check with town counsel; “Town counsel said he wanted to see the emails before they were given to Chris Allen.”

Milanoski said he checked with Lou Ross of town counsel’s firm.

“We did get a letter from town counsel with specific instructions,” Selectman Fred Koed said. He added that if this had happened to any other selectman and they had not been informed of the request for 5-6 days, there would be some concern. He said normal procedure is to ask the selectmen to produce the documents requested. Koed asked Milanoski to give him a written copy of the procedure he was using to obtain documents from selectmen’s accounts.

Milanoski said he had nothing written down.

Koed then seconded Martha’s motion to seek town counsel’s advice regarding procedure.

Vice chair Diane Kennedy said “This would be a lot nicer situation if there had been some kind of communication.”

Citizen Agnes McCann said it was unseemly that the acting town manager was being put on an equal footing with a selectmen, saying the board should not let him sit there and argue his case.

Editor’s comment: the above issue has already been decided by annual town meeting when it voted for amendments to the Town Manager’s Act:  

The town manager and any person acting under his supervision, direction, or control shall have no authority to access the electronic communications of any town officer or employee, or information maintained in a personal work area or computer of any such officer or employee, unless such access has been approved in advance by the board of selectmen or by a member designated by the board to act on such matters.”

The above language was written by and recommended by Town Counsel. It could not be any clearer.

This is the link article we wrote about Selectman Gjesteby’s visit with the acting town manager on 5th. http://wp.me/p3o8kv-2iY

 

 

© Copyright 2013 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed
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  8 comments for “Selectman Martha Gjesteby says town manager’s actions “chilling”

  1. May 10, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Goodbye, Peter.

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