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Grand Island sets file retention as priority after server deletions are found

The Town of Grand Island will take measures to bolster policies on document retention after almost 1,800 files were deleted from a town server at the end of departing Supervisor Mary S. Cooke’s term, current Supervisor Nathan D. McMurray said Wednesday.

The files were deleted at some point between Dec. 28, 2015, and Jan. 3, according to a town information technology report forwarded to The Buffalo News. Someone using Cooke’s user name and password deleted the files, McMurray said, although he didn’t directly name anyone as being responsible.

“The files were recovered from backup,” McMurray said, noting that the town’s server is backed up regularly. “It was a couple of hours of IT work.”

The deletions came as McMurray was coming into office after winning a contentious race in November by 14 votes. Cooke had been seeking her second term as supervisor, after serving on the Town Board for 18 years.

While the town believes that all the files have been restored, McMurray said, there are uncertainties surrounding the issue. “Why this was done and the scope of the impact is unclear,” he said in a statement.

The deletions could have severely affected the board’s ability to look back at what former boards and supervisors had done, McMurray said. “It would have made it difficult for us to figure out what was happening,” he said.

Grand Island resident Rus Thompson, who found out about the deleted files within the last two weeks, said he has taken the issue to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office in hope that the matter will be investigated. “To me, it’s a crime,” he said.

Thompson, who supported McMurray in the election, had yet to hear back “officially” from either office as of Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Attempts to contact Cooke for comment were unsuccessful.

In light of the deletions, there are concerns that current policies in the town have not been followed regarding the proper handling of both hard and electronic copies of documents, McMurray said, adding that he has had worrisome conversations with former and current leaders.

McMurray said he will be work to strengthen document retention to prevent future incidents. “I’ll benchmark other towns’ procedures to look for best practices,” he said.