By G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – It is a classical political he said-he said. And after one week, the controversy rages on.
On Jan. 16, Mayor Richard Kos accused former Mayor Michael Bissonnette of deleting or destroying both paper and electronic files in his office – an action prohibited by state law. He has formally asked Attorney General Martha Coakley, District Attorney Mark Mastroianni and Inspector General Glenn Chunha to investigate the lack of files.
Bissonnette has said that all the files – including tens of thousands of emails sent to him during the course of his administration – are on the city’s servers and there were no vital paper documents in his office. All of the files are in the departmental offices.
Kos said the computers in the office were cleansed as well as Bissonnette’s desktop workstation, his city-issued laptop, tablet and cell phone. There were no paper files in the office – something Kos anticipated seeing.
“I think it’s very unfortunate,” Kos said of the situation. “The public is not well served.”
Kos’ announcement is a potential complication for Bissonnette’s political future as he is seriously considering a run for Hampden County Register of Probate. According to posts on his Facebook page, Bissonnette continued pre-announcement activities meeting with prospective supporters across the county.
Kos specifically noted he did not have any documents pertaining to the audit undertaken by the Bissonnette Administration of police internal investigation practices or the agreement struck by Bissonnette with MGM Resorts International.
Kos added that MGM officials provided him with a copy of the agreement for payments to the city as an abutting community.
The mayor added that combination of the safe in the office has been changed.
Kos had hoped there would have been “a smooth transition” between the two administrations.
Although he acknowledged there are “obviously some things you throw out,” he noted that 12 boxes of materials had been removed from the office as well as two recycling bins of paper.
Kos called the lack of files “a major distraction,” and said that city departments had been “very forthcoming in helping to create files.”
City Solicitor Marshall Moriarty said he hopes the state offices contacted by the Kos Administration will not only provide guidance, but also assume part of the cost of any investigation.
After Bissonnette initially responded to the accusations, Kos released the following statement on Jan. 17: “If this was simply a matter of retrieving files from a server, my Law Department would not have recommended an inquiry and investigation by the State Attorney General. In fact, electronic files were deleted which were not backed up to a server, and other important documents are missing and cannot be located. This matter is now under review by the appropriate investigative authorities.”
This reporter sought additional clarification from the Law Department to confirm or deny several points made by Bissonnette, but by press time has not received a response.
Bissonnette told Reminder Publications
any misunderstanding could have been avoided by “a simple phone call, a request for a meeting.”
He added, “It’s typical of Richard Kos to point the finger without picking up the phone.”
Bissonnette said digital files – such as his thousands of emails – are backed up on the city’s onsite server as well as a back-up server in New Hampshire. He added that working documents on such issues as MGM, the senior center, the combined sewer overflows and police investigations are filed with the department handling the issue or project.
On Facebook, Bissonnette posted, “No, I did not hear from Mayor Kos or anyone on his behalf concerning ‘missing’ emails prior to his press conference. On Wednesday Jan. 8, I was called by an attorney from the Law Department inquiring about project files. Told him they were either in Law [Department] or with project managers (senior center, MGM, police, Chicopee High School renovation). As to staff, I kept a staffer who had worked for Mr. Goyette to smooth what had been an unfortunate transition. After the election, I got copies of documents, contracts and budgets, met with department heads and hit the ground running when I took office.”
On Jan. 10, Bissonnette sent the following email to department heads and to Kos’ chief of staff, Mary Mogé: “Please be advised that no requests for any materials pertaining to ongoing projects, municipal finances or other city matters were received from anyone on behalf of the Kos administration prior to Nov. 7.
“As I indicated to the mayor-elect shortly after the election, I and my staff were prepared to cooperate fully in a smooth transition. An exchange of text messages further confirmed this willingness.
“However no contact was made and no requests for documents or other materials was ever received. In fact no one was contacted by the transition team or anyone else on behalf of the mayor-elect. Further it was apparent that all contact concerning the transition was being made through the departments as evidenced by [City] Clerk [Keith] Rattell’s email to department heads announcing the transition process.
“Therefore all documents would be found with the respective departments involved in the matter for which information is sought. I would have been happy to provide any and all information upon request prior to the inauguration. Regrettably no such request was made to my office nor was any contact concerning same initiated. As a result, most paper materials were recycled [through] the single stream collection system in City Hall as electronic copies exist elsewhere.
“It was not until the Tuesday of New Year’s Eve that I heard from the mayor-elect requesting a meeting on Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately you and your colleagues were apparently delayed and were unable to meet at 2 p.m. as planned. When you arrived at 2:45 p.m., a decision had been made to close City Hall due to weather conditions. At that time, no document requests were made and to my understanding none were made at any other time.
“My offer of cooperation continues in effect. However the official city files are not kept by the office of the mayor and I believe whatever type of information is sought can easily be obtained from the project managers or involved departments. Please feel free to let me know if there are any difficulties in obtaining whatever materials are sought. I will be happy to provide whatever assistance I can to insure that Mayor Kos has the information he needs to fully understand the issues facing the city.
“Best of luck in your new responsibilities.”
Bissonnette’s explanation were backed up by Michael Lareau, former senior systems engineer for the city in statement posted on the website Laronet.
Lareau wrote in part, “Much of the technology currently in place was implemented by me personally or with the assistance of certain staff who are still employed in the department today. I was not hired by Mr. Bissonnette nor am I involved in any Chicopee politics. After reading several articles with little or semi-accurate information I felt I would try to clear the air of any clouded details.”
He continued, “With regards to the “deletion of over 28,000 emails” permanent deletion is simply not possible by an employee outside of the city’s Information Technology department. Here is a very crude and brief outline of the process that takes place with regards to email retention: When an employee sends or receives an email through the city’s email system that message is duplicated and preserved on a separate appliance with a significant amount of data storage. That retention time is set to seven years. If a user deletes a message from their inbox or sent items folder, and then subsequently deletes it from their deleted items folder, it is still retained on the separate appliance. At any point the city’s I.T. Department has the ability to restore said email messages. With the amount of email that flows in to the city’s email system it is simply not realistic to require all employees retain every piece of correspondence, in fact each user has pre-defined limits on their mailbox size in which email would cease to flow if they go over said limit. For these reasons it is why we proceeded to implement this device, a device that from my recollection was installed before Bissonette’s administration.”