In an unbelievable display of government incompetence, the Town of Sweden has lost an entire box full of confidential information.
The confidential information was stored in a cardboard box on the floor under the desk of the Deputy Town Clerk, Kathy Roberts.
Town officials have absolutely no idea what happened to the box. All they know is that it was there one day, and the next time they looked it was gone.
For more than a decade, there’s been a running joke in Brockport about how the Town of Sweden keeps important records in shoeboxes. Maybe it isn’t a joke.
Rumors that something was amiss have been swirling around Brockport and Sweden since Friday February 17th, when a Brockport Police car and then a Monroe County Sheriff’s car suddenly pulled up to the Sweden Town Hall shortly after lunch.
It seems the Sweden Town Clerk called 911, and dispatch sent a Brockport Police car to the scence. But The Town Clerk demanded that a Sheriff’s Deputy be sent instead, so the Brockport Police Officer called dispatch and requested that a Monroe County Deputy Sheriff be sent to the Sweden Town Hall.
Officials at the Town Hall wanted to keep what happened a secret, but it’s amazing what you can find out by submitting a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Request and paying 50 cents for a copy of a simple two page report.
According to the report, which came to light today, the missing cardboard box was filled with almost 200 parking tickets, which had been issued by the Brockport Police Department since January 1, 2012.
The traffic tickets were in the possession of the Sweden Town Clerk’s office because Brockport still does not have a Village Court, and therefore must utilize the Sweden Town Court instead.
It is totally incomprehensible that a college town like Brockport doesn’t have a Village Court. But that’s the way it is right now.
It has been six years since Police Chief Daniel Varrenti first suggested to the Village Board that forming a Village Court would be the most practical and cost-efficient way to improve the administration of justice in the Village.
It’s been almost a year since Trustee Kent Blair joined Connie Castaneda and Dan Kuhn in voting to kill the ad hoc committee’s recommendation to create a Village Court.
And it’s been almost a year since candidate Blackman said she, “Wasn’t convinced about a Village Court.”
Maybe this incident will be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back.
“I don’t have time to distinguish between the unfortunate and the incompetent.”
USAF General Curtis Le May (1906 – 1990)
The information on those parking tickets is confidential because each of those parking tickets contains the name of the registered owner of the illegally parked car, as well as their date of birth and their address.
So whoever has that cardboard box of traffic tickets now knows the identity of almost 200 people. This could get serious.
A recent survey by Javelin Strategy & Research estimates that 11.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2011, up from 10.2 million in 2010.
Sweden’s Town Clerk, Karen Sweeting, and Deputy Town Clerk Roberts seem to think that somebody took the box of parking tickets on the night of February 16th when there was an administrative meeting of Town and Village officials at the Town Hall.
At least that’s what they told the investigating Sheriff’s Deputy on February 17th.
But it’s also possible that the cleaning lady picked up the box of papers (that shouldn’t have been on the floor in the first place) and tossed it into the recycling bin so she could finally vacuum under the desk.
But if somebody did take the tickets, then according to Article 155 of the New York State Penal Law, they can be charged with Grand Larceny.
S 155.30 Grand larceny in the fourth degree.
A person is guilty of grand larceny in the fourth degree when he steals property and when:
1. The value of the property exceeds one thousand dollars; or
2. The property consists of a public record, writing or instrument kept, filed or deposited according to law with or in the keeping of any public office or public servant…
Grand larceny in the fourth degree is a class E felony.
Unfortunately, New York State Penal Law does not include a definition of gross incompetence.
Maybe it should, because this is not the first time that the Sweden Town Clerk has had trouble handling legal paperwork.
Just last month, it took the Sweden Town Clerk eleven days, more than twice the legally allotted time, to respond to a simple FOIL request for information about some proceedings of the Sweden Town Court.
Even then, the Town Clerk responded to the FOIL Request only after she was reminded, in person, that the Freedom of Information Law requires that every government agency must to respond to a FOIL Request with the status of the request within five working days of receipt of the request.
The Village of Brockport usually replies within 2 hours. Monroe County, which handles about 4,000 FOIL Requests a year, replies within 48 hours. New York State replies by email almost immediately. But the Town of Sweden doesn’t bother to respond at all.
To make matters worse, instead of saying thank you for the reminder, Town Clerk Sweeting complained that the FOIL Request had been submitted by email, and she demanded that all future FOIL Request be submitted in writing.
She didn’t specify whether the request had to be handwritten in cursive or if a printout of the email would suffice.
That kind of attitude explains why confidential information was stored in a cardboard box on the floor under the desk of the Deputy Town Clerk, where someone can walk in and take it.
Anyone who has ever been in the Sweden Town Hall can tell you that there is almost nothing but air between the front door and the desks where the Town Clerk and Deputy Town Clerk sit behind the counter on the west side of the building.
There’s a low railing, but that’s it. And to make security matters even worse, it is not uncommon for people to walk up to the Town Clerk’s counter and find that there is no one in the entire area.
When that happens, you have to walk over to the counter on the east side of the building and ask someone there for help.
Storing confidential documents in a cardboard box under someone’s desk is dumb enough, but what makes it worse is that the Sweden Town Clerk can’t find adequate space in that immense building to store confidential documents properly.
The Sweden Town Hall is not only the ugliest building in Brockport; it is also one of the largest; with an area of 12, 694 square feet, plus a 3,379 square foot partially finished basement.
The huge building has an assessed value of more than a million dollars, but there is almost as much wasted space in the Sweden Town Hall as there is wasted time in the Sweden Town government.
When you walk into the Sweden Town Hall you immediately notice large areas of empty space, and that doesn’t include all the empty space in that ridiculous portico with all the columns that guck up the sidewalk on State Street in front of the Town Hall.
And yet the Sweden Town Clerk cannot find a suitable place to store confidential information properly.
According to the 2010, 2011, and 2012 Budgets posted on the town website, the Town of Sweden has consistently projected court revenues from Fines and Forfeitures of $125,000 annually.
However, the actual revenues are significantly higher.
In response to a FOIL request from modenook.com last April 26th, the town’s Director of Finance, Leisa Strabel, provided the actual numbers for town court revenues in 2009.
- $442,330 total fines collected
- $248,779 remitted to New York State
- $18,800 remitted to the Village of Brockport
- $174,751 retained by the Town of Sweden
The Town of Sweden Court generates revenue of $175,000 a year, but the Town won’t spend a few dollars to buy lockable file cabinets to store confidential court data.
In the near future when you do a Google search for the definition of incompetence, here is what you’re likely to find.
The Town of Sweden government, Monroe County, New York.
Ten years ago former Mayor Josephine Matela talked about a shoe box full of unpaid parking tickets under the Town Clerk’s desk.
People laughed and said it was the dumbest idea they’d ever heard.
Unfortunately, nothing has changed; and it won’t until Brockport has a Village Court.