By Mike Gaffney | WickedLocal
Jim Rivers, the town’s director of information technology, has accused former Town Manager Scott Crabtree of asking him to delete all documents and emails from his town-issued computer.
Rivers met with the Board of Selectmen last Wednesday to discuss a personnel complaint he brought regarding Crabtree, who the selectmen fired on Oct. 29.
On Sept. 12 Rivers said Crabtree directed him to copy all documents from his laptop onto a flash drive. Then on Sept. 15 — the day the selectmen voted 4-1 to suspend Crabtree from his duties as town manager — Rivers claimed that Crabtree instructed him to delete the documents and emails from his local machine.
Rivers told board members he refused to comply with the request because he knew it “wasn’t right.”
Selectman Stephen Castinetti asked Rivers if he still has a copy of the information Crabtree wanted deleted. The IT director responded that he does and it’s in a secure location.
In addition, Rivers said Crabtree tried to “jailbreak” his phone and rendered it useless. Rivers took the device to the Apple store and employees there confirmed there was no data to be used on it and there was nothing they could get off of it.
“It’s useless, I can’t even bring the phone back to its original state, all the internal components are done,” Rivers said.
Castinetti inquired if the information stored on the phone was backed up on a cloud. Rivers said the data could have been on a cloud but that he wasn’t sure to what degree Crabtree backed it up.
Selectman Debra Panetta said this was the first she heard of the issue and that she was playing catch up. She raised the possibility that Crabtree determined he wouldn’t be using his laptop anymore and wanted it to be clean, wondering why he would ask for the documents to be deleted.
“The issue I have is it’s public information,” Selectman Paul Allan said. “None of it should ever be erased or deleted.”
Selectmen Chairman Ellen Faiella asked Rivers if he was in possession of all the town equipment assigned to Crabtree.
Rivers replied that Crabtree never turned in an iPad nor an older iPhone 4 that had been issued to him.
Faiella expressed concern that Crabtree has yet to return property that belongs to the town of Saugus. She suggested the issue and the former town manager’s alleged request to delete documents from his laptop warrant further investigation.
The chairman went on to ask Rivers about bills for two phones on the town of Saugus account that weren’t addressed to Town Hall.
Rivers said the bills were sent to Scott Crabtree and John Hatch — the latter who is the husband of Town Treasurer/Collector Wendy Hatch.
Faiella reviewed the bills and said there were multiple instances of these two phones in question being used to call each other. She added that one of the bills was in arrears by hundreds of dollars.
“I’d be curious to find out how they were being paid if the bills were going to someplace other than Town Hall, how were they were accounted for,” Castinetti said.
Rivers said both of the numbers were taken off the town account on Sept. 18, three days after Crabtree was suspended. He noted that a Verizon representative told him “someone with the last name Crabtree” authorized the action.
Panetta said it’s possible that both Crabtree and Hatch were paying the bills and that perhaps the second phone referenced was for Wendy Hatch.
Castinetti said Panetta might be able to justify Crabtree using the phone, but not John Hatch, who isn’t a town employee.
“I don’t care who’s paying the bill, he has no right to a phone in this town if he’s not a town employee,” Castinetti remarked.
Rivers said he decided to come forward with this information because he felt there was a form of intimidation going on in town.
“That’s why I kept a log of stuff that was happening, I figured that the people should know,” Rivers remarked.
Rivers acknowledged that he felt there were attempts to intimidate him. Castinetti asked him who tried to intimidate him, and when Faiella said he can’t use their names but only positions, Castinetti said he’d drop the matter.
Two current town employees also advised him against approaching the selectmen with his concerns, Rivers said.
Selectman Maureen Dever questioned Rivers if Crabtree asked him to dispose of or alter public records, and the IT director responded in the affirmative.
“I think it’s clear from the journal presented to us tonight that you were asked to delete public records, which clearly under the Massachusetts public records law is illegal . . . it’s important public records be maintained according to the law, I don’t think any public employee should be asked to delete any public records,” Dever said.
Allan emphasized that there needs to be an investigation or audit into the information that Rivers presented to see how far it goes and how many people are involved.
“It seems like the onion is being peeled back a bit,” he said.
Allan offered a motion to initiate an investigation into the matter. Panetta said she would like to consult with Town Counsel John Vasapolli and hold off taking a vote until the board’s Tuesday meeting because the situation involved a fired employee and she didn’t want to expose the town to additional liability.
“I want to make sure we do this right,” Panetta said.
Allan amended his motion to hire outside counsel to advise the selectmen, to which Panetta wondered if rather than spending town money to hire an investigator the information should be presented to the district attorney or State Ethics Commission.
Faiella said the statements Rivers made to the board are very serious and need to be investigated. The board then voted 5-0 to support Allan’s motion to launch an investigation.
Castinetti commended Rivers for coming forward to discuss what’s been going on at Town Hall. He said other employees have been affected as well.
“People have been abused long enough, they’ve been beaten into submission long enough,” Castinetti said.
Allan thanked Rivers for his courage and stressed that he intends to hold people accountable. He urged anyone else who has knowledge of wrongdoing to alert the selectmen.
Faiella said these are very serious statements and she wants to consult with Temporary Town Manager Bob Palleschi about how to best proceed with the matter of an investigation.
Allegations ‘entirely without merit’
Attorney Andrew Gambaccini issued the following statement on behalf of his client, Crabtree.
My client would like to thank all those friends, family members and residents who have contacted him and his family to share their thoughts and support. Mr. Crabtree appreciates the encouragement and well wishes received over the last two months from the good people of Saugus.
Recently, in a letter dated Nov. 6, 2014 and received on Nov. 8, 2014, Selectman Chair Ellen Faiella sent to Scott Crabtree a “written notice that the Saugus Board of Selectmen will hold an executive session on Nov. 12, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall First Floor Conference Room, 298 Central St., to hear personnel complaint [sic] in regards to alleged actions taken by you, as town manager of Saugus.” The notice went on to describe the rights of an individual pursuant to the Open Meeting Law with respect to an executive session.
This contemplated meeting also was posted on the board’s agenda as an executive session.
In disregard for the written notice, the board’s agenda and the applicable law, the board instead held an open meeting on Nov. 12, 2014. During the course of that meeting, an employee who acknowledged repeated communications with several selectmen since the time of my client’s suspension made a number of allegations concerning my client that are entirely without merit and are emphatically denied.
It now is evident, based on the unsigned log purportedly maintained by this employee, who has no personal knowledge of the situation nor any role in the procurement and administration of the town’s cell phones, that this employee was solicited and encouraged to appear before the board long after the initial filing of nine charges that my client already has responded to and vehemently denied in writing.
During this meeting, the employee accused Scott Crabtree of “jailbreaking” his phone. In terms of that allegation, it would perhaps be wise for this employee to work toward an understanding of the meaning of the term “jailbreak[,]” as he presently does not seem to have such knowledge. The reality, as those who actually have knowledge of the situation are aware, is that Scott Crabtree retired on the evening of Sept. 5, 2014 with his phone charging, only to awake to his phone not being in a usable condition. This occurred prior to Mr. Crabtree’s suspension that took place on Sept. 15, 2014. Upon scheduling an appointment on Sept. 8, 2014, and going to an Apple store on Sept. 10, 2014 for the repair of the phone, Scott Crabtree was advised by the Apple technician there that there was a hardware problem with the phone and it was not fixable. These events were not disclosed by the employee although he had been made aware of such.
With respect to the issue of “town” phones, again the employee has little basis for his assertions. As is the case with many employees in many settings, Scott Crabtree, for the sake of convenience, purchased another phone for personal family use. The phone itself was paid for privately, and the plan associated with the phone has been paid for privately on a separate plan throughout and with no cost to the taxpayers of Saugus. The town is not responsible for, nor does it maintain this phone or service. In essence, this issue dwindles down to the fact that the Crabtree family has another phone, nothing more. The desire of the selectmen to examine personal records of Mr. Crabtree is an outrageous abuse of authority yet consistent with the very behavior that the good citizens of Saugus are now realizing by the thousands.
As to the assertion that Scott Crabtree tried to have anyone “delete” public documents, the allegation is absurd. No material ever was deleted as all of the materials, including emails, not only are saved to the town’s server and to offsite storage, but Scott Crabtree’s assistant also has had access to the material. All that was requested by Scott Crabtree was that his computer be cleared in order to give the individual who would be using the computer next a device that was ready for that person’s individual use. This happens in businesses and governmental agencies on a daily basis, which is something that an IT professional should know. Any citizens who have left a place of employment for any reason can recognize this as a reasonable and common occurrence.
At this point, it is safe to say that these members of the Board of Selectmen are interested in nothing else but engaging in reckless activity built on a foundation of untruths. They do not care about the town’s exposure to liability in litigation and, in fact, seem to be deliberately inviting more exposure. Scott Crabtree will continue to evaluate all of the legal options available to him with full realization that only in the appropriate judicial forum will his good name be cleared. Those who have attempted to besmirch him in this callous and improper way will know that there are real world legal consequences for misconduct of that sort.
Following the meeting, Panetta objected that the agenda for the Nov. 12 meeting had one item listed — personnel complaint, executive session — and neither she nor the public were notified it was going to be in open session.
“I was also never informed on what the ‘personnel complaint’ was prior to the meeting,” Panetta said. “How does one selectman quote, verbatim, from the records retention policy if they didn’t know what the complaint entailed? Another selectman, according to the unsigned notes, talked with Mr. Rivers five times from Sept. 22 to Oct. 14. It was clear that the other selectmen knew about this issue and were well prepared with comments and questions. I am concerned that individual selectmen are interviewing employees after a job action was taken. At the meeting, I suggested that we consult with legal counsel prior to taking any action. The board has already fired Mr. Crabtree, so further action may appear to be retaliatory and cause further potential liability for Saugus.”