Cover-Up At City Hall
by David M. Divelbiss

Suppose you went to work one morning and your employer told you:  "We're very sorry, but we have inadvertently put you at risk by giving your personal information - including your social security number - to someone who should not have it. You could become a victim of identify theft if you don't take precautions."
You wouldn't be happy, but at least they told you. You could now protect yourself. You would advise your bank of the situation and have them freeze all of your accounts against electronic funds transfers. (This might mean you would have to mail a check to pay your phone bill, instead of paying it online. But the safety would be worth the inconvenience.)
Lenoir City government employees weren't so fortunate. Their employer (the city) gave the names, addresses, social security numbers, and dates of birth of 68 employees to an unauthorized person last December. When they learned what they had done, they chose not to tell their employees.
The week of Sunday, April 27th - more than 4 months later - those employees learned what had happened. To make matters even worse, it was not the city that told them. It was the person whom the information had been sent to.
Click here for e-mail which city Recorder/Treasurer Maggie Hunt sent me on Dec 18, 2007. The vital information was all in the attachments.
What did I do? I could've cleaned out bank accounts. If I didn't know how to use this info, I could've sold it to someone who did know.
I forwarded this e-mail to Mayor Matt Brookshire, and sent a copy to City Administrator Dale Hurst.
I told them about the e-mail I had received from the recorder's office. I didn't write about it on TOPIX (where I am Lenoir City editor). You the people had re-elected this group, and it was their job to clean up this mess.
In late April, more than 4 months later, I learned how they had handled it: They had chosen to cover it up. As best as I could tell, not one employee whose vital information was in that attachment had been told about it.
Saying to myself: "If they aren't going to tell them, then I will do it myself", I sent them the following letter. Click here for my letter.
I attached a copy of the above e-mail from Maggie Hunt to my letter, and wrote on it each employee's SSN and DOB. One person (whom I will mention in a moment) objected to this. But I felt this was necessary to show them that this wasn't a prank or scam. They were receiving this letter from someone most of them didn't know.
On Tuesday April 29th, arriving at home in the afternoon, I found messages on my phone thanking me for the letters. I was also advised to expect some subpoenas for the information (and we all know what that means!).
After being home roughly one hour, I heard a knock. There was a Lenoir City police officer at my door, to serve me with a letter from city attorney Shannon Littleton. (I'll omit the officer's name. He was merely doing as he had been told.) Click Here For Littleton Letter.
To clarify what Littleton is talking about here: I had told the city that the information was safe with me, and I would not put the employees at risk by disseminating it to people who should not have it. I had merely promised to obey the federal law.
I wrote Mr Littleton back, informing him that the "cease and desist" request was no problem as all of the letters were already mailed.
The part about destroying the information was different though. I told him I could not do this, as I had been informed subpoenas were forthcoming. I have been informed that Mr Littleton says he knew nothing about this matter prior to April 29th (the date on the above letter). This may surprise you, but I am inclined to believe him. When I sent Ms Hunt's e-mail to Brookshire and Hurst, I recall searching the city's website for Littleton's address. The website was "under construction" and I could not find it.
It appears that Brookshire and Hurst, upon learning of this matter, were so unconcerned that - besides not informing their employees - they did not even bother to tell their city attorney about it. (So.......just what are they paying this man $90,000+ per year to do?!)
It will probably be some time before the last paragraph of this story is written. If Mr. Brookshire and/or Mr. Hurst had acted responsibly, this story would not be here at all.  (BTW Matt, did you never learn that it was the cover up - not the burglary - that brought down President Nixon?)
As for Ms Hunt, she is still their chosen & appointed City Recorder/Treasurer. Matt Brookshire apparently wants to keep her badly, as he's asking us to amend the city's home rule charter so she won't be troubled by having to campaign for the office.
But, all she did was give an unauthorized person access to the identities of 68 city employees. (At least it wasn't something really serious, like getting on YouTube clowning around at the Pilot. HELLO?)
Was I the only person who received such a "mistake" from her? I have no way of knowing the answer to that question!
One more thing:
During the 2006 mayoral race, at the headquarters of the mayor's opponent, we were told about this type of thing - how some city employees daily fear the loss of their jobs, while others who are in "the clique" can get away with just about anything.
Don't act surprised folks. Almost two years ago you were told that favoritism, nepotism, and cronyism were the rule - not the exception. You re-elected them, and that is still how your city government is run.

Addendum to this story.

Since I wrote this story, Mayor Brookshire has finally decided to try and come clean with the employees, five months after the fact and after I informed the affected employees.
The date of this letter, as you can see, is May 1st 2008. If this letter had been sent out January 1st, then we (including I) would all be very impressed by how well Matt Brookshire had handled the matter.
Click Here for Brookshire's Letter.