It started as an investigation into claims of disrepair in the basement of Hartford City Hall. City Councilman Larry Deutsch (WF) agreed to take us on a tour to show us his concerns. But while water leaking freely into City Hall surprised us, it was another mess that really caused alarm.
"Councilman, these are billing documents with people's names and personal information on them that I just walked in and picked up,” said Troubleshooter Sabina Kuriakose.
"Right. It shouldn't happen. Of course these documents should be locked and preserved,” replied Deutsch.
Room after room was filled with unsecured City records. In one, stacks of documents sat in boxes and others were plainly strewn on the floor among old furniture and Christmas decorations. Some of the documents contained sensitive information entrusted to the City by the people of Hartford.
We found piles of City financial documents, some as recent as 2007. We found copies of driver's licenses and even personal checks made out to the city, with account numbers as clear as day.
Councilman Deutsch said the basement has been like that for decades.
"We all know most of this should be secured in a reasonable way, and if it's very old then discarded and destroyed. If it's recent, then saved with some security and some protection. That's the expectation nowadays,” he said.
We found out the documents may be dated, but much of the information they contain is still very relevant. That includes Hartford resident Alvin Gravely’s bank account information. We tracked down Gravely to show him what we’d found.
“Do you still use that bank account?” asked Kuriakose.
“Yes,” answered Gravely.
"How does it make you feel that your personal financial information was lying on the floor of the basement of City Hall?” Kuriakose asked.
"That's ridiculous. That's total negligence on their part. Incompetence,” he said.
We tracked down George Gittens using a copy of his old driver’s license—another document we found.
"Is that your driver's license?" Kuriakose asked him.
"Yes,” he said.
Like Gravely, Gittens was shocked by what we showed him.
“I'm just surprised it could happen. For example, that you two folks could walk in here and present something that I thought was so private to me,” he told our Troubleshooters crew.
So why are such private documents so haphazardly stored in City Hall? We went straight to Mayor Pedro Segarra (D). He told us it’s a problem that’s piled up in past administrations. The Mayor said he’s been working to fix it.
Segarra told us he wasn’t aware there was personal and financial information of private citizens until the Troubleshooters brought it to his attention. After taking a tour Monday afternoon, Mayor Segarra said he’ll take immediate action.
"I as Mayor do not know every single document that's being stored down there. But I can ask my department heads to be accountable to make sure they properly secure and store any documents their departments may have down there,” he said.
As for the issue of public access, the Mayor told us, “It’s not an area that's open to the public. So anyone who's not City staff should not be down there."
But it we easily walked in off the street, into City Hall, down a flight of stairs and right into the rooms where those documents are being kept. No one stopped us or even asked where we were going.
"It should be better secured,” acknowledged the Mayor.
That’s what residents Gittens and Gravely said they expect.
"Protect the citizens of Hartford,” said Gittens.
The Mayor said he expected to have a full account of the documents in the basement of City Hall and to remove any sensitive information with the help of the Department of Public Works—all by next Monday.