City Council president says her computer is "monitored;" administration says charge "unfounded"
Mayor Lenny Curry’s Chief of Staff Brian Hughes on Friday dismissed claims made Wednesday by City Council President Anna Lopez-Brosche that her and her executive council assistant’s computers are being “monitored.”
Brosche made the statement during an interview on WJCT 89.9-FM on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross saying she learned that her and assistant Jeneen Sanders’s “computers are being monitored.”
“I really don’t know, she was trying to log off and it said you can’t log off because someone else is on the machine,” Brosche said.
“So, is it your contention that you and your staff are being spied on?” Ross said.
“I find it difficult not to reach that conclusion, but I’m just putting together my experiences and observations of things that happen on a regular basis,” Brosche said.
In response, Hughes called the claims “false and wholly unfounded.”
“Let’s be clear, no one in the mayor’s administration, at any level, has ‘monitored’ or followed any council member or staff,” Hughes said in a written statement.
“Similarly, there has never been any surreptitious, intentional or unintentional interference or monitoring of any electronic devices of members or their staff,” he said.
Emails obtained through a public records request Friday detail an exchange Thursday between Hughes, Chief Information Officer Kenneth Lathrop and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.
Mousa wrote that he “became very concerned” about the accusations.
“Accordingly,” wrote Mousa to Hughes, “I took it upon myself to investigate these allegations.”
Thursday evening, Lathrop sent Mousa a report showing who other than Sanders had logged into her computer as well as a list of documented services issues reported by her to the Information Technology Department.
According to Lathrop’s report, Sanders’s computer had been locked out once this year on April 24; three times in 2016, on Sept. 28, April 13 and Feb. 11; and twice in 2015, on Nov. 20 and Sept. 15.
“These occurrences were the result of entering an incorrect password, login ID, or requesting assistance to change a password,” he wrote.
Lathrop said that besides Sanders, three others had logged into her computer since September.
Brosche used the computer Oct. 12, Information Systems Administration for City Council Steve Cassada logged on Feb. 20 and council member Garrett Dennis used the computer on Nov. 6.
Dennis said Friday that he believes he used Sanders’s computer because he did not have a council assistant at the time.
“Her assistant was helping to cover the office for me, legislative services were helping at the time as well,” Dennis said.
“That’s the only thing I can think of,” he said.
Dennis said it is not uncommon for city employees to occasionally log into equipment that isn’t specifically assigned to them.
He said in those cases, when he or anyone else uses another person’s computer, only the files tied to their specific user account can be accessed.
Dennis, who has had a new assistant since the end of December, said “There’s no way for me to see or have access to her files or anyone else’s.”
While he didn’t make the same accusation as Brosche, Dennis said “it’s not unusual for those claims to be out there, because it’s possible.”
Brosche said Friday she stands by her previous statement.
“When my off-site meetings and whereabouts are being reported back to those with whom I’m meeting, and when my assistant receives a message when trying to log off her computer that she cannot do so because someone else is on her machine, I stand by my suggestion that her machine is being monitored,” she said in a written statement.
“When it comes to truth, honesty, and transparency, I’ll let the people decide who they believe,” she said.
Hughes classified the claims as having “zero basis in fact” and that they are “irresponsible and absurd.”
“Giving voice to such nonsense demonstrates a willingness by her and her staff to simply lie in order to score points in some twisted political game,” he said.
“Either way, casting such charges at the hard-working men and women of this administration is inappropriate,” Hughes said.
This is not the first time Brosche and Sanders have publicly accused the mayor’s office of misconduct.
On Feb. 12, Sanders filed a complaint against Hughes with the city’s employee services department claiming he accosted her in a fourth-floor lobby at City Hall. Sanders said the encounter made her feel unsafe around Hughes.
The city’s Office of General Counsel cleared Hughes of any wrongdoing Feb. 15.
During the interview Wednesday with Ross, Brosche, who also is a Republican, said she wouldn’t rule out a run against Curry in the 2019 mayoral election.
“I am really flattered by all that feedback I’m receiving in terms of encouraging me to consider an opportunity to run for mayor,” she told Ross.
Brosche’s term as council president ends June 30. She is nearly finished with her first term as the At-Large Group 1 council representative.
“After the conclusion of my council presidency there will be a lot to think about and there will be some clarity as far as what my next steps will be.”