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Discovery of personal files on Lancaster County government computer shines light on importance of local journalism, accountability, public trust and cybersecurity [editorial] | Our Opinion


THE ISSUE: “Dozens of personal files belonging to Lancaster County’s top attorney — including documents related to local Republican Party committees — were discovered on a county government computer network earlier this week. year, raising questions about whether he was doing campaign or other outside work using taxpayer time or resources,” LNP | LancasterOnline’s Tom Lisi reported Sunday (investigative journalist Carter Walker contributed reporting) . “The files belong to Jacquelyn E. Pfursich, the former clerk of courts who last year was appointed county attorney. Pfursich said she accidentally transferred the files to the county’s computer network when she used a personal thumb drive in July 2021 to transfer some work-related files as he transitions to his new role as a lawyer.

Mistakes in private life are one thing. Mistakes that can involve taxpayer-funded resources are different.

LNP | LancasterOnline has obtained copies of 85 or more files in question from one source. The files “include 55 documents related to Pfursich’s political work on the county and Hempfield Republican committees, at least 13 files related to outside legal work Pfursich has done over the years that he serves as a clerk of courts, and 11 files that are personal in nature,” Lisi explained.

While serving as a clerk of courts, Pfursich represented private legal clients on the side. And he has chaired the Hempfield Area Republican Committee since 2016.

Because the clerk of courts is an elected position, Pfursich is allowed to hold outside jobs. But, as Lisi wrote, “Pennsylvania’s Public Officials and Employees Ethics Act prohibits elected officials from using their office for ‘personal financial gain.’ And the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission … found the conduct of campaign work and personal work with county resources, such as computers or telephones, to qualify as a form of financial gain.

It must be a significant gain to impose a penalty.

We cannot know the extent of the issue here because, unfortunately, no external investigation was sought or conducted.

It was essentially left to the LNP | LancasterOnline to check this item.

Paper in newspapers

Politicians may prefer it if community newspapers disappear or refuse to put resources into dog reporting, but citizens lose.

As Northwestern University’s Medill School’s 2022 report on the state of local news says, newspapers continue to “disappear at a rapid pace. An average of more than two a week are gone.” And in ” communities without credible sources of local news, voter participation is down, government and business corruption is on the rise, and local residents are paying more in taxes and at the checkout.”

Newspapers also record and preserve local history.

Genetic genealogist CeCe Moore played a key role in identifying suspects in the long-standing cold cases of Lancaster County homicide victims Christy Mirack and Lindy Sue Biechler. Moore said he scoured newspaper archives to find information about cases he worked on.

Mirack’s killer’s DNA shows Puerto Rican heritage; Moore discovered from a newspaper article that Mirack’s alleged killer, Raymond “DJ Freez” Rowe, was Puerto Rican on his father’s side. And Moore found the lead in Biechler’s case in a Lancaster New Era listing of the marriage license and address of Biechler’s alleged killer, David V. Sinopoli.

LNP | LancasterOnline’s reporting over the years has helped keep the cold cases of Mirack, Biechler and others on the public’s radar.

This newspaper also takes its role as a local government watchdog seriously. And this editorial board is seriously responsible for questioning local elected officials.

‘later’

So let’s start with one of these: Why didn’t Pfursich himself push for an external investigation?

As a lawyer, he is the chief legal officer of the county and must be above reproach.

As Lisi wrote, the political and personal files belonging to Pfursich were first discussed publicly at a June board of commissioners meeting when Ron Harper Jr., a local political activist, claims that he has evidence that Pfursich abused his office as clerk of courts.

The presence of the documents in the clerk of courts network was reported to Lancaster County human resources director Michelle Gallo and Democratic county Commissioner John Trescot in a March 31 memo written by Mary Anater, Pfursich’s successor as clerk of courts. Trescot is the designated point of contact between Anater’s office and the county board of commissioners.

Anater said he “reviewed the files, determined they were against county policy” and reported them.

Pfursich said he had no idea the files — some containing confidential information on legal clients — were accessible on a shared county computer network.

“In hindsight, I had to use a new, new thumb drive to avoid any accidental transfer of files,” Pfursich said. “However, I have never used county computers or county resources for political purposes.”

We have to take his word for it. Because, as the chief county clerk Lawrence George told the LNP | LancasterOnline, she forwarded the files to him for safekeeping. As Lisi reported, George “took no further steps to investigate the matter or refer it to someone else — either an outside attorney or other investigative body.”

George said he had not considered whether the existence of the files was worth further investigation.

“The first goal was to remove all the information that was believed to be accessible to someone who shouldn’t have access to it, and my first thought was never, ‘Oh, is that going to taint any kind of investigation to follow. ?’ said George.

Why wasn’t that his first thought? We wonder if this is because the culture at the Lancaster County Government Center is not conducive to accountability and transparency.

After all, the Lancaster County government is led by Republican Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino, who have always railed against the LNP | LancasterOnline.

Matter of public trust

As Patrick Christmas, policy director of the Philadelphia-based Committee of the Seventy on good government, Lisi said, the public deserves assurance that public officials are acting above board, especially now, when there are few trust in the government.

“Even relatively minor violations or potential violations can damage trust,” Pasko said.

Pfursich must recognize this.

As Lisi noted, “Pfursich’s account of how the county network files and the subsequent response by George and others raise questions about the county’s cybersecurity policies and protocols, as well as how they are managed of potential ethical matters.”

It will definitely do.

George told the LNP | LancasterOnline that his response followed county procedures. However, the file is missing data that could be part of a deeper query.

The county’s information technology security policy was obtained by the LNP | LancasterOnline through an open-records request. The policy does not explicitly prohibit the use of external thumb drives, but it does say that users “should store work documents and data on cloud-based storage, rather than on the device’s hard drive or USB storage device ,” reported Lisi.

The reporter was hoping to find out if deleting personal files from a shared drive eliminated the ability to do a more in-depth forensic analysis of the matter, but Steven Clement, the county’s IT director — which found it likely that Pfursich’s transfer of personal files to the county network was accidental — did not respond to Lisi’s questions.

Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, DC, think tank that focuses on cybersecurity and privacy issues, told Lisi that the inability to review the history of computer activity by county officials would indicate major system deficiencies. He also said that allowing users to copy or transfer county documents to a device outside of the IT system is questionable.

“These are the officials for whom the chain of custody is very important – for documents, with access to things, you want strong audit logs. All this suggests bad IT in general an and IT security,” said Castro.

Christmas suggested that county officials want to review the onboarding process for county employees to “prevent this type of thing from happening in the future.”

That’s the least they should do.

Playing politics

We have to wonder what would happen if it had to do with an official who had a role in the political leadership of the Democratic Party.

As reported by Lisi, Parsons and D’Agostino have political ties to Pfursich and voted for his attorney appointment in July 2021 over objections from the Democratic commissioner at the time, Craig Lehman.

Republican Party politics clearly shaped county government.

Last week, for example, Parsons voted against providing financial support for the YWCA Lancaster program aimed at reducing the separation of children in some family court cases.

Why? Because he took issue with comments a YWCA employee made in April opposing the Republican commissioners’ decision to remove the county’s only mail-in ballot drop box.

That’s the “way, out of the YWCA’s lane,” Parsons stated.

The stated mission of YWCA Lancaster is to “eliminate racism and empower women.” And a legitimate way to empower women is to encourage voting to be as accessible as possible.

Additionally, we find Parsons’ criticism of YWCA Lancaster’s “political advocacy” ironic, as he often uses his official social media accounts to retweet comments by Republicans in congress – which for us is a “way, way” from a Lancaster County commissioner’s lane.

We respectfully suggest that he focus on improving the county’s cybersecurity and IT policies and procedures. In light of the Pfursich matter, this seems necessary.



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