City of Johnstown Mayor Vern Jackson Monday night shot back against criticism of the city’s relationship with its computer services company ATEC Group of Albany.
On March 26, the New York State Comptroller’s Office released an audit report regarding the city’s Information Technology practices. The report criticized the city for having no formal written contract with ATEC Group, a company the city paid $92,309 to between Jan. 1, 2019 and Jan. 15, 2020. According to the report, city officials seemingly had little understanding of how the money was being spent and for precisely what services.
Jackson, reading from a four-page letter he said he received from an ATEC employee in charge of the city’s account, Lane Zugalla, refuted the central claim of the Comptroller’s report.
“The audit did bring up the fact that they could not find an agreement that we have with ATEC,” Jackson said. “Lane provided a copy of the agreement, and I know we have one here. It was done in March of 2015. It renews every year, if there are no changes to the services. The prices have remained the same for the entire time that we’ve had this agreement. I’m going to get it reviewed to see if maybe we have to have them upgrade it, but since the price has remained the same, I really don’t want to disturb it.”
Jackson’s statement indicates the written agreement with ATEC would have occurred during the tenure of Mayor Michael Julius who died during his term of office on July 28, 2016.
Jackson called the letter from Lane Zugalla a “rebuttal to the New York State audit with regards to our computer system, our IT services and an article that appeared in the [Daily] Gazette.”
“I’m going to just highlight some of it,” Jackson said, describing the letter as four pages long. “He asked me to express that he’s worked with the city of Johnstown for over 10 years.”
Lane Zugalla Monday indicated he had written the letter, but that he had asked Jackson not to release the contents of the letter publically.
“The letter was to Vern, ask him for it,” Zugalla said. “I’m not commenting.”
The employee said he was not authorized to speak on behalf of his company and that questions should be directed to his manager at ATEC, Lou Needham.
Needham did not return a voice message seeking comment for this story.
During the Common Council meeting Monday night, Jackson said Zugalla’s letter indicated his company provides “hardware/software applications, access points, infrastructure, infrastructure management, network management, security, storage, backup and recovery.”
“‘Since late 2019 we have been actively enhancing the total infrastructure and Johnstown’s data center and network capabilities’,” Jackson read. “He goes on to say that the current enhancements will eliminate many of the items the New York state auditor uncovered. He did begin this work prior to the audit and did let them know much of what they were looking for would be moot, once completed. He did not see anywhere where they mentioned the upgrades in the process. Since the audit started, Johnstown has replaced or upgraded much of [our] data infrastructure. The data center has increased storage capacities, redundancies, performance upgrades in just about every area, including cybersecurity.”
The Comptroller’s March 26 report showed the city had poor systems in place to manage cybersecurity, including that 11 of the city’s 92 enabled computer network user accounts had “unneeded permissions” and that 13 accounts belonged to City employees or officials who left City employment between one and six years before the Comptroller’s audit. The report also showed that city employees had used all 11 of the city’s computers for personal internet use unrelated to city business.
Jackson said the city has “everything locked down now” and that the city will “continue to update the policies in the firewall” with respect to inappropriate websites being available on the city’s computers.
Another point made in the Comptroller’s report was that, “City officials were given an opportunity to respond to our findings and recommendations within 30 days of the exit conference, but they did not respond.
Third Ward Councilwoman Amy Praught, who is also the Republican candidate for city mayor in November, asked for an update on how the city was going to officially react to the Comptroller’s audit.
“Did we, as a city, officially respond to the report from the state?” she asked.
“No,” Jackson said.
“Are we going to do one after this?” Praught asked.
“No,” Jackson said.
Jackson would not agree to an interview for this story, and did not respond to a text message from the Daily Gazette requesting access to Lane Zugalla’s letter.