Kadner: Breach of trust in Bremen Township
By Phil Kadner email@example.com September 13, 2013 7:34PM
Updated: October 16, 2013 6:41AM
After Bremen Township Assessor Grace Bardusk filed a police report claiming that a computer security breach occurred at her office, township Supervisor Maggie Crotty had the locks changed.
But Bardusk wasn’t given a key to her office, nor were any employees in her office.
“It’s political retaliation,” Bardusk told me. “And I believe the security breach was the work of someone within the township working for Maggie Crotty.”
Bardusk lost her bid for re-election in April to Willie Jones, a candidate backed by Crotty.
But under an arcane Illinois law, township assessors remain in office until Dec. 31 of an election year, while all other newly elected township officials assume their posts in early May.
That has set up more than one bitter feud between a township assessor who has been ousted and the political organization that has worked to replace them.
Bardusk contends that she and Crotty have been at odds for years, but the situation has escalated since the election in April.
Bardusk said she discovered Aug. 19 that someone had logged on to her township computer with a user name that was not hers. She said her computer is password protected, and no one should have been able to log on without the password.
The email address “firstname.lastname@example.org” appeared in her display box, Bardusk said.
She filed a police report, and on Sept. 9 township administrator Rondal Jones sent an email from Crotty to the entire staff at Bremen Township, asking them to turn in their keys. Either over the weekend or early that Monday morning the locks had been changed.
“These were the locks to the township offices and to the assessor’s office (within the township hall in Markham),” Bardusk said.
When her staff showed up on Sept. 9, all of the doors were unlocked, she said.
“It’s been like that all week,” Bardusk told me. “The doors are unlocked, and there is no one in the office or in the building when my staff shows up for work, so anyone can get in there and look at our files.
“We filed property tax appeals on behalf of our residents, so there is information containing Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses and that is personal information no one should have access to but my staff.”
Crotty, a former state senator, told me she felt she had no choice but to change the locks after Bardusk reported the computer breach.
“I felt like I had to do something,” she said. “What if I do nothing and then she reports a computer stolen or something else? Then it looks like she filed a police report and I did nothing.
“I have no idea who would have done something like this, and I trust all the people in our office.
“So I asked for a list of people who had keys, and it turns out we had keys out to the cleaning staff that comes in on weekends and to other people who weren’t employees and so I decided to change the locks,” Crotty said.
“The administrator (Jones) has one key, and the other was given to the township highway commissioner. They get to the office early in the morning before the assessor and her staff arrives and unlock the doors. And they stay late and lock the doors after the assessor’s staff leaves.
“The assessor and her staff are not locked out. We’re doing this to protect the security of the township offices.”
I asked Crotty three times why Bardusk had not been given a key to her office, and each time received an explanation resembling the one above.
“I would not have changed the locks after the election if this hadn’t come up,” Crotty said. “There was no plan to do this. It cost us money.”
Crotty said Bardusk never told her or the administrator about the security breach.
“I was notified by the Oak Forest Police Department after she filed a complaint,” Crotty said. “Does that make sense? If there’s a security breach in the office, why wouldn’t you notify someone in the office?”
Responding by email, Bardusk wrote, “When I made the police report, I walked the officer to the foyer where the administrator, Rondal Jones, was. The officer went to Mr. Jones, did the handshake with a hug and chuckles and asked what was going on. (The) officer said there was a breach of the assessor’s computer. Jones escorted officer into his office and closed the door.”
Bardusk made it clear to me that she doesn’t trust Crotty or Jones.
“There has been a pattern of political harassment here for years,” she said. “This isn’t the first time.
“Why is the highway commissioner given a key to my office? I’m the elected assessor for this township ,and he has no authority over my office. But he does because he is Crotty’s guy.”
Jones told me he had no idea who accessed the computer in the assessor’s office and that “email@example.com” is a user code for all computers at the township hall that’s assigned by the computer server, which is outside Bremen Township.
“It is not my user name,” Jones said. “The assessor doesn’t understand how these computer systems work.”
He said Crotty has instructed him to look at installing security cameras and alarm devices as a result of the computer breach.
Bardusk claims that Crotty is doing her best to drive her from office, including cutting her budget and swearing in her successor, Willie Jones, although he is not legally eligible to become assessor until Jan. 1.
“I contacted the township officials association and was told I could swear Willie Jones in and I did,” Crotty said. “There’s nothing illegal about it. He is not the assessor until the end of the year.
She said that while a senator, she tried to change the law that allows township assessors to stay in office for eight months after an election.
The reason why township assessors do so is that, outside of Cook County, they are in charge of property tax appeals. They contend that if they are removed before year’s end, all the work they have done on tax appeals for constituents will be lost.
In Cook County, township assessors do not assess property or hear property tax appeals. They do often help residents file appeals.