Aquinnah town hall break-in creates questions of workload and security

Town employee was trying to reset a router on a weekend.

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Discussions became tense at a Wednesday morning Aquinnah selectmen’s meeting, called to examine a break-in of the town hall on Saturday.

According to a police report, town administrator Jeffrey Madison contacted the Aquinnah police after getting a call that Aquinnah town assistant assessor Angela Cywinski was seen entering the selectmen’s office through an unlocked window. In the police report, Ms. Cywinski stated that the computer in her office was not connecting to the Internet, and that she decided to reset the router, which is located in the treasurer’s office. The key for the treasury office is kept in the selectmen’s office. Upon getting the key from the selectmen’s office, she went into the treasurer’s office to reset the router.

Meeting attendees expressed concern that someone could access the treasurer’s office, which also stores personnel files.

Elise Le Bovit, a member of the board of assessors, stressed that the reason Ms. Cywinski was in the building in the first place on Saturday was to finish work she was unable to get done during working hours. She also argued that there was a precedent for people climbing through windows to get into their own offices. “There was precedent, but maybe she made an unfortunate choice at that moment,” said Ms. Le Bovit. “It’s been done before, and she thought it was OK because other people have done it.”

Selectmen chairman Jim Newman said there had never been an incident like this during his 15-year tenure. “My issue is that one doesn’t break into a building. There are people you could call,” he said.

The meeting continued onto further discussion about whether the assistant assessor would need additional hours to complete her work. Ms. Le Bovit noted that it is a re-evaluation year, which can include people coming in to argue about their property taxes. That makes for difficulties in budgeting time and completing everything within working hours. She added that the assessors are fined if they don’t meet their deadlines. The board of selectmen was unconvinced. “You can’t tell me that this job takes that much time to do. It just can’t,” selectman Gary Haley said.

“I’m a certified assessor by the commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Mr. Madison said. “I’ve been an assessor for 30 years. I know what the job entails.”

Selectman Juli Vanderhoop suggested scheduling meetings with people who wanted to discuss their property taxes. ““There are ways to manage people,” she said.“Time management is of the utmost importance.”

Selectmen decided to continue discussion of the assessors’ workload at a future scheduled meeting.

In order to avoid incidents like the break-in, the selectmen unanimously voted to close the town hall from 5 pm on Fridays to 7:30 am on Mondays and on holidays. Any exceptions will be evaluated further. They also said that they would change the locks on the town hall, not because of this incident, but because it is standard procedure when a new administrator begins his term. Mr. Madison replaced Adam Wilson as the new town administrator at the beginning of this month.

Aquinnah Chief of Police Randhi Belain said that the town is not pressing charges against Ms. Cywinski.