The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

July 20, 2012

Northumberland County Commissioners debate in open letters to citizens

This letter was submitted to The Daily Item by Northumberland County Commissioner Rick Shoch:

To the Citizens of Northumberland County:

Much has been written in the press over the last few weeks regarding the issue of Commissioner Clausi’s county computer hard drive and his disposal of the same.  I have read many of the comments from Northumberland County citizens appearing in the hard copy and online editions of the local newspapers, and have received phone calls and correspondence from many others asking for answers to their questions about this matter, and speculating as to the motives, responsibility and involvement of the individuals connected to this issue.

For reasons that I will explain more fully in this letter, I was not initially at liberty to disclose all of the information known to me about this matter.  Instead, I chose to bring the matter to light in a way that I thought would ultimately lead to a more full disclosure of the facts, and provide some insight as to the involvement of county officials, by raising the issue and asking questions on the record of my fellow commissioners at public meetings. A review of the record of those meetings (both minutes and audio tapes) will show that both Commissioner Clausi and Commissioner Bridy engaged in avoidance of the specific questions I asked and, in the case of Commissioner Clausi, made statements that were inconsistent both his own prior public statements and those of the IT Director regarding his involvement in this matter.

As there has been, and will undoubtedly continue to be, a large amount of unsubstantiated allegations and opinion disseminated under the guise of fact about this issue, and about my motives for raising it, I will endeavor to first distinguish clearly what I know as fact, and reserve my opinions on the matter for the end of this letter.

First, I want to dispel any speculation that the County’s IT Director, David Fisher, was engaged in any wrongdoing in connection with this matter.  If the facts as conveyed to me by Mr. Fisher are true, then he did everything that should reasonably be expected of him, under the circumstances, to protect the County and uphold the Laws of this Commonwealth.  

In early May of this year, Mr. Fisher contacted me to report a matter that he correctly believed was a violation of the law with respect to Commissioner Clausi’s hard drive.  He indicated that Commissioner Clausi had instructed him to remove the hard drive from Commissioner Clausi’s county-owned computer, and to destroy it.  Mr. Fisher said he told Commissioner Clausi that he would not destroy the hard drive, as he believed it was a violation of the law.  

Mr. Fisher claimed that soon after this initial discussion, he was summoned to Commissioner Clausi’s office, and that upon entering, he discovered that Commissioner Bridy, the Chief Clerk and the Director of Human Resources were also present. Mr. Fisher indicated that at that time, Commissioner Clausi very firmly stated that he had his own “experts” look into the matter, and that the law stated that, as an elected official, his county computer, its hard drive and any files thereon were his property and had to be given to him.  Mr. Fisher indicated he was again instructed to remove the hard drive from Commissioner Clausi’s computer, and he was given $200.00 with which he was to purchase a new hard drive to install in the computer.  Fearing that his job would be in jeopardy if he failed to comply with the order, Mr. Fisher purchased the replacement hard drive in order to make the switch.  It is at this point that Mr. Fisher contacted me to report the matter.

At the time he first reported this to me, the hard drive had not yet been replaced.  I advised Mr. Fisher that I would discreetly consult with both the County Commissioner’s Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) and a trusted personal friend in the law enforcement community for guidance as to the legal implications surrounding the handling of the hard drive, and our respective duties to report what we knew to the appropriate authorities.  While I would normally have consulted the County Solicitor on a matter such as this, I know that he has a duty to share with all Commissioners what he is asked to review, and Mr. Fisher was extremely apprehensive about reprisals, including possible termination, if the other two Commissioners knew that he had reported this matter to me. I also instructed Mr. Fisher to begin making contemporaneous notes of his interactions with county officials regarding the matter so that he could rely on them in the future if he was called upon to give statements or testimony in any legal action involving the matter.

Mr. Fisher indicated that he planned to tell Mr. Clausi that the old hard drive should be kept in the safe in the Commissioners’ Office Suite, but because he doubted Mr. Clausi would actually do this, he also planned to make a “clone” of the hard drive before handing it over to him, so that no County data would be lost.  Unfortunately, when I next contacted Mr. Fisher several days later to apprise him of my discussions with CCAP and others, he indicated to me that before he had the opportunity to make a clone, Commissioner Clausi had come into the IT department after he knew the old hard drive had been removed, and demanded that it be immediately handed over to him.  

Mr. Fisher also indicated that, prior to removing the old hard drive, Commissioner Clausi had summoned him to his office and demanded that he delete three specific files from the hard drive before “imaging” the hard drive’s contents for the County’s archives.  He explained to me that the effect of this was to create a copy of the hard drive for the County’s records that would not show the three files he was ordered to delete, and would also contain no evidence of their deletion.  By contrast, he explained, the original hard drive or a “clone” of the original would still contain embedded data that would allow a forensic computer examiner to pull up the deleted files.

 At this point, both Mr. Fisher and I reported these facts to authorities, and I also had a later conversation with D.A. Rosini regarding the situation.  As you have likely seen in the press accounts, D.A. Rosini believed that a conviction in this matter would be hard to obtain due to the fact that Commissioner Clausi had discarded the hard drive, and thus it would be difficult to prove that files had been destroyed that were not otherwise saved on the County’s main computer server.  At this time I also sent the email (a copy of which was later given to the press at the June 12th public meeting) to Mr. Fisher, asking him how the hard drive was handled.  I worded it such that it would appear that I was making a general inquiry to which he was responding, so as not to raise suspicion of him to Commissioners Clausi and Bridy when it was later disclosed.

While I have made no secret of my disagreement, and in some cases disdain, for many of the tactics and antics employed by Commissioners Clausi and Bridy during the first six months of this administration, my goal in reporting this matter was not to discredit either of them.  I think both of these men give a fairly accurate account of their character through their own actions.  Rather, my goal was to fulfill the oath I took when I was sworn into office to defend the laws of this Commonwealth by reporting information regarding an alleged violation of the law that was reported to me by a County employee.  I was disappointed that no further investigation was undertaken, because I think the citizens of this County have a right to know the truth regarding this matter, and it was my hope that a thorough investigation would reveal that truth, even if no criminal conviction was possible due to the fact that the hard drive was allegedly discarded.

My reasons for bringing all of the information to the public in this letter now are twofold.  

First, I believe the public deserves to have all of the information regarding this matter so that they can make an informed decision regarding how they feel about the actions of the officials they have voted into office, and how those actions effect Northumberland County’s ability to retain valuable, honest employees to serve them.   

Second, Commissioner Clausi has already begun his well-worn tactic of character assassination as regards Mr. Fisher, and this I cannot abide.  Less than two days after the Board meeting at which I disclosed Mr. Fisher’s emails to me regarding the disposition of the hard drive, Commissioner Clausi entered my office, along with the Chief Clerk, and made allegations regarding Mr. Fisher’s credibility that were so outlandish and defamatory that I will not repeat them here, out of respect for Mr. Fisher.  

I find it odd that Commissioner Clausi suddenly sees fit to so aggressively disparage a man who, by all accounts, was a model employee and valuable asset to the County until he disclosed information that was inconvenient for some of the Commissioners.  Does this story sound familiar? While Mr. Fisher was initially apprehensive about coming forward regarding this issue, he has since agreed that I should disclose the matter fully to the public, in order that Commissioner Clausi’s rumors and innuendo will not go unchallenged.  

You, the citizens of Northumberland County, can decide for yourselves what you believe to be the truth in this matter. However, as you make your decision, note the following.  As I stated earlier in this letter, Commissioner Clausi has given inconsistent accounts, on the public record, regarding both his disposition of the hard drive, and his knowledge of a “rule” stating that the hard drive was his property as an elected official.  Commissioner Bridy has refused, on the record, at least three times to answer the question of whether he participated in a discussion regarding how the hard drive was to be handled, preferring instead to simply answer that he wasn’t present when Mr. Fisher handed the hard drive to Commissioner Clausi.  By contrast, Mr. Fisher’s statements to me have never been inconsistent.

You have also heard my fellow Commissioners claim that I am somehow raising this issue to divert attention from their own attempts to discredit me regarding issues they have raised that have nothing to do with the County’s affairs.  With so many accusations flying around, I’m sure it can at times be hard to know who to believe.  

Luckily, in this age of technology, we don’t have to leave such matters to chance.  I would be agreeable to participating in an independently administered polygraph test of all three Commissioners, as well as other personnel involved in this matter, to determine who is telling the truth and who is not.  I would also agree to being tested at the same time with respect to any questions my fellow Commissioners have raised about me, and to have the testing results disclosed to the public. I challenge my fellow Commissioners to also agree to this testing.  I have a feeling there isn’t enough concrete in this world to bury the truths that would be revealed.   

Sincerely,

Richard J. Shoch

Northumberland County Commissioner

 

    

This letter was submitted in response by Northumberland County Commissioner Vinny Clausi:

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