December 12, 2019

Old Gmail accounts causing issues for city


WEST BRANCH — Concerns were raised at the Nov. 4 West Branch City Council meeting over some Gmail addresses set up while Heather Grace was city manager.

Former Mayor Denise Lawrence, who was in attendance at the meeting, alleged that the address she still uses had been hacked.

“It came from city hall,” she said. “Someone at this building hacked into my personal email account. I want to know who did it and why they did it.”

She said she would be getting a police report on the issue.

City Manager Frank Goodroe said the city had recently been attempting to work through a password problem on a city council member’s account.

Goodroe told the Herald that Grace had created seven or eight email accounts for council members at the time, as well as the mayor. These were created as free Gmail accounts, under no domain. He said he didn’t know of the existence of the accounts until Lawrence came to him with her issue.

Goodroe said many of the people for whom the addresses were made are no longer council members, and some are deceased. He said the city has no control over the addresses, because the accounts are tied to a phone number Grace still uses as her personal number.

“The city provided that number, that was a city number that she took with her,” Goodroe said at the meeting.

“We have had some other numbers that prior department heads took with them, but I believe there was a formal process where it was approved that they do that by the council,” he told the Herald. “I’m not aware that our current mayor or council approved that.”

He said there is no written policy on this matter, but there will be.

After Grace left, more Gmail accounts were created by the office clerk using the default number, Grace’s. Accounts created with this number can’t be closed or changed.

“What we have right now is an insecure situation,” Goodroe said.

All council members, staff and the mayor now have email addresses under the domain. Goodroe said the city clerk has administrative rights on these addresses in case someone loses a password or has other problems, or if an account needs to be closed.

Concerning Lawrence’s email account, Goodroe said it is unethical for her to still be using it.

“I think it’s a sorry situation that you’re still using that email address when you’re no longer the mayor,” he told her.

“I can use whatever email address I want to use,” Lawrence replied. “I can use the ‘westbranchcitymanager’ email — you can’t tell me what email to use.”

Mayor Paul Frechette agreed with Goodroe as he put an end to further discussion on the issue.

“There’s another issue in civil litigation that’s being drawn into this conversation, so I’m shutting it down,” he said. “If you have a problem with that mayor@gmail, then please file your report so we can get it taken care of and looked at. Because I also question the ethics. Yes, you can use whatever handle you want on a Gmail, but when it was set up, was it set up as your personal email, or was it set up as a city of West Branch, to be used for city business? And that’s a question that should be answered when this investigation gets opened.”

The civil litigation Frechette referred to is the lawsuit Grace brought against the city upon her departure, claiming she had been discriminated against and constructively discharged from the city manager position.

Goodroe said the attorneys on both sides are currently in the discovery mode, examining documents. He said the attorneys are discussing the issue with the phone number.


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