Westfield’s latest lawsuit against clerk-treasurer alleges she compromised city data

Cindy Gossard

The city of Westfield is once again suing Clerk-Treasurer Cindy Gossard, this time for giving an outside information technology contractor unauthorized access to the city’s computers.

The city filed a complaint Tuesday in Hamilton Superior Court 2 alleging Gossard compromised the city’s data security by hiring an unidentified IT professional to access and download information from three city employees’ computers. Gossard told IBJ she hired the contractor, whose identity she would not reveal, to evaluate software on those computers that she suspected of containing spyware.

The court has set a hearing on the city’s motion for preliminary injunction for 2 p.m on Friday, Aug. 27.

“There is a trust and obligation that the City of Westfield ensure the city’s systems are secure,” Westfield Mayor Andy Cook said in a written statement. “This trust should extend to the Clerk-Treasurer and she has failed. Any data downloaded needs to be identified and returned as soon as possible.”

The lawsuit marks the third litigious act involving Cook and Gossard in the past eight months. While Gossard calls the lawsuit “frivolous,” Cook said it’s a “necessary response” because the city doesn’t know what data was accessed or compromised.

The mayor launched an ongoing examination of the city’s finances last September after city councilors made allegations that a contractor at the Grand Park Sports Campus owed the city money. Those related lawsuits dealing with separations of power and access to city information were dropped earlier this year, but the latest complaint continues the legal fight.

Gossard said she first started noticing cursors on the clerk’s office employee computers moving without explanation earlier this spring, as well as city administrators’ login credentials auto-populating in fields where they shouldn’t.

Andy Cook

After notifying the city of her suspicions that spyware had been installed on the computer, Gossard learned that six licenses for BeyondTrust had been purchased and installed on computers throughout her department.

At a July 26 Westfield City Council meeting, Gossard called BeyondTrust spyware and announced that she’d forgone a list of city-approved vendors to retain her own forensic IT professional to investigate the matter.

The city’s lawsuit refers to Gossard’s claims that the software BeyondTrust is actually spyware as “The Ruse.” It goes on to say that BeyondTrust—or a previous version of it—has been used by the city for at least 10 years and Gossard has previously used the software, herself.

Gossard denies that claim, saying an alternative software used prior to the purchase of six BeyondTrust licenses in November 2020 requested the computer operator’s permission before gaining access.

“If you look up BeyondTrust, which we did, the capabilities of this software is not just for the normal everyday,” Gossard said. “This BeyondTrust can access a computer without the end user knowing, it can start up a computer that’s off and it can do pretty much whatever it wants.”

A representative for Johns Creek, Georgia-based BeyondTrust did not immediately respond to requests for an interview, but Westfield Informatics Director Chris Larsen did say at the July 26 council meeting that BeyondTrust is not spyware.

He said it is software installed on every city-owned machine that allows the city to take remote control of computer. Though it does not require user permission, the computer displays the fact that it is under an IT professional’s control and user can end the session at any time.

“The data she’s trying to protect is the data I’m trying to protect,” Larsen told the council.

According to the lawsuit, Gossard’s contractor was provided with login credentials and had access to the city’s computers from 5:40 p.m. on July 23, until 3:30 a.m. the following morning.

Though it’s unclear exactly what information was accessed, the city’s lawsuit states Gossard’s contractor could have accessed the city’s financial information, bank information, confidential vendor documents, confidential police data and employee personal information.

“My IT person did not access the network. He copied the hard drives, that was it,” Gossard said. “They’re saying he got in and he’s got everybody’s information. My IT guy in no way shape or form did he access the network.”

The suit calls Gossard’s conduct “willful, wanton and malicious,” and states that she took action “selfishly and recklessly to shift attention away from her gross incompetence.”

Now, the city is seeking damages and requesting Gossard and her unidentified contractor return its information.

“I just want to find out what’s happened, if anything. If nothing, fine. I just need to know. A lot of all this nonsense going on, it’s interfering with us doing our jobs,” Gossard said. “I’m an elected official as well. I do have authority to take care of my office. I believe this lawsuit is just trying to intimidate me.”

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9 thoughts on “Westfield’s latest lawsuit against clerk-treasurer alleges she compromised city data

  1. I think it is unfortunate the way Westfield City Administration is flagrantly airing the their disagreements in public. Surely this could have been settled without lawsuits. Who pays for attorney fees?

  2. This whole thing has the whole “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” cloud hanging over it. Just not sure which party has the fire they’re trying to put out. One thing I do know, if an employee in the private sector allowed an IT firm access to company computers after hours, or at all for that matter, they’d probably be facing charges of some sort.

    “announced that she’d forgone a list of city-approved vendors to retain her own forensic IT professional to investigate the matter.”

    “My IT person”

    These aren’t her personal computers.

    Read this two days earlier:
    https://www.youarecurrent.com/2021/08/10/205824/

    This is very bizarre.

  3. Going around her own internal IT department and doing this in secret must mean their is internal distrust and to copy the hard drives of six computers for her own benefit is highly suspicious. I would normally say this is an internal matter as it would be with a corporation, but since were talking about a government run city I can understand why they have publicly disclosed what is going on and yes, they need to get to try and uncover the facts. I can’t imagine it was ok for her to do that no matter her reasons and if your concern is really just removing a program why keep a copy of the hard drives. Something fishy going on here. I hope the truth comes out.

  4. Clerk-Treasurer and Mayor are each separately elected officials with control over their own staff and statutory functions. If “her” staff had remote-control software installed on their computers by “his” staff, she may have a case to examine it and to decide whether to get rid of it.

    .

    I seem to recall similar infighting between Carmel’s mayor and clerk-treasurer some years back, and it resulted in Carmel changing to a different class of city so that the mayor could choose a comptroller to handle city finances. I’d guess that is where this situation in Westfield will end up.

  5. The IT department reports to the mayor. She is an elected official.. Hiring outside help to determine what his area is doing to hers doesn’t sound unreasonable, same as hiring outside legal counsel due to the mayor in charge of it also. There are admitted problems at Grand Park due to the mayor, seems like he’s concerned about something more

  6. Any reasonable person who has followed this saga , which began last year, knows the Mayor has wasted over $750,000 of taxpayers’ funds on legal fees in 2021 alone and the Clerk Treasurer has been harassed with these frivolous lawsuits. There are months of legal expenses which the City has not yet been billed for which will probably push that amount over $1 million!

  7. Such a travesty, the city could put the money (which seems likely to top $1 million) and the energy into doing so much good for our community. Instead, our “leaders” continue to glibly waste our valuable resources (their government salaries and benefits, their government offices, their staff, the fees for lawyers and consultants) to perpetuate this childish feud. It’s long past time for them to get in a room, without lawyers and consultants, and do what they are paid to do – bury the personal differences and find a way to work together on behalf of Westfield. I’m pretty sure if they had to use THEIR MONEY to sue each with, this would have been resolved long ago. Most children demonstrate more emotional intelligence than these two egomaniacs.

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