Fairhope council subpoenas documents from Elias Technologies

Further questions into mayor’s involvement in company’s investigation

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Fairhope’s city council voted unanimously last week for a resolution that authorized the council to subpoena documents and records from Elias Technologies, following questions that have been raised regarding actions taken by the company at the request of Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson.

Two invoices and possible mayoral involvement

Two invoices from Elias Technologies to the City of Fairhope given to The Courier appear to show work equipment used by former city employees Sherry Sullivan and Jennifer Fidler was sent to be examined and searched by Elias, a forensics company, at the request of Wilson.

Elias Technologies did have a contract approved by the council to help with IT services and needs for the city’s police department, but council members have repeatedly questioned how Wilson’s actions fit in with those parameters.

In a blog post on her blog, Wilson said her involvement with the company had been correcting some “additional services” performed by the company that she said had not been aware of.

“Unfortunately, Elias performed additional services that were not described in the scope of work, and Elias billed for those services,” Wilson wrote. “I did not receive an invoice indicating that this additional work had been performed until well after those services had been performed. When I called this to the attention of Elias, the company redacted those charges and submitted a second invoice containing charges for only those services specifically described in the scope of work. Elias willingly agreed to remove the disputed charges, and Elias will not be compensated for those charges. Thus, by bringing this to the attention of Elias, I saved the City several thousand dollars. I considered the issue a non-controversial and routine day-to-day function of my role as Mayor. The City Council does not necessarily need to be notified of these ongoing security procedures, but I am happy to discuss these issues with any Councilman who desires to do so.”

In a previous statement to The Courier, City Council President Jack Burrell wrote the council was unaware of most of the actions taken by Wilson in investigating the equipment used by Sullivan and Fidler, and said they were still unsure why the search was necessary.

“We do not know,” Burrell wrote. “The council was not involved in or informed of the Mayor’s decision to search this equipment. Additionally, the Fairhope Police department was unaware that these searches were being conducted. It would be unusual for the executive branch of our government to conduct an investigation without the knowledge of the police department.”

Burrell questioned Wilson’s assertion that she was the one who discovered the issue with the original invoice and some of Elias Technologies’ work being outside the scope of work.

“It is my understanding that the City Treasurer informed Elias that some of the work performed was outside the scope of the resolution adopted by the Council after receiving the original invoice,” Burrell wrote. “The Mayor did not discuss the need for the searches, nor did the Mayor advise the council that searches were being done.”

Elias Technologies CEO Gus Dimitrelos released a statement to The Courier detailing some of the work done and said Wilson had been “playing the role of investigator” throughout the process of searching Sullivan and Fidler’s equipment.

“Elias Technologies performs data extraction, but does not play the role of investigator,” Dimiterlos wrote. “In this case, the Mayor, playing the role of investigator, provided some names of persons she believed to have been in contact with employees and email accounts through which she believed City information was being mishandled. No evidence of mishandled information was ever identified.”

Creation of a subpoena

The resolution created a council subpoena for Elias Technologies to produce documents and electronic records that show the key word searches requested for by Wilson on Sullivan and Fidler’s equipment, all records produced by the search, all communications between Wilson, Fairhope IT Director Jeff Montgomery and Elias Technologies and answers to the following questions:

- What was Elias told to look for?

- What were the results of the searches?

- Who told Elias what to look for?

Local blogger Paul Ripp, who has been critical of the council looking into the invoices, got up during public comments and said he felt the council subpoenaing the documents could lead to legal trouble for the city.

“You have an employee suing you and part of their case has something to do with what is said and done through Elias,” Ripp said. “You could turn up evidence that could be used in court against us.”

Ripp questioned why the council would feel the need to undertake such a move.

“I don’t understand why you’re going through this when there are much more serious problems the city is facing,” Ripp said. “I think you’re going down the wrong road with this.”

Councilman Jay Robinson said he and other council members felt the information asked for could be relevant to the claims facing the city.

“We have two claims pending against this city that we believe this information would be directly relevant to,” Robinson said. “Whether this is good or bad, this is relevant.”

The council passed the resolution unanimously at the meeting.

On. Aug. 18, Wilson still had not yet signed the resolution so Burrell exercised his ability to sign the document as city council president.

During the Aug. 14 meeting, the council also unanimously approved a resolution involving record retention for the city, which calls for no written, video or electronic city records to be destroyed without the approval of the council. Wilson did sign that resolution.