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Between the Lines: Bissonnette's Blank Slate

Did Chicopee’s ex-mayor have something to hide?

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why would a cagey pol like Michael Bissonnette have his computers scrubbed on his way out the door?

The former Chicopee mayor stands accused by his successor of trashing thousands of public records days before leaving office. According to the new mayor, Bissonnette left him without “a single file relating to ongoing city issues.” That means no correspondence about casino deals or about cops who take and share cellphone photos of murder victims, just to name a few “city issues” of recent interest.

Upon his inauguration on Jan. 6, Mayor Richard Kos says he found the mayor’s office barren of paper records, with all electronic devices “swiped clean.” A “subsequent review determined that more than 28,000 emails had been deleted, in an apparent violation of state law,” according to a statement Kos released last week.

At the mayor’s request, Chicopee city solicitor Marshall Moriarty filed a notice Jan. 15 with the state Attorney General’s Division of Public Integrity, the Inspector General’s Office of Investigation and the Secretary of State’s Supervisor of Records—big guns all—requesting help in an investigation.

In a Jan. 10 email, Bissonnette assured Kos that “all documents would be found with the respective departments involved in the matter for which information is sought.” The informality of the former mayor’s email, echoed in recent press interviews, is classic Bissonnette: “I would have been happy to provide any and all information upon request prior to the inauguration,” he writes. “Regrettably, no such request was made to my office, nor was any contact concerning same initiated.”

So he ordered his IT department to scrub all the computers in his office?

Bissonnette’s final term was marked by controversy, including a scandal involving veteran Chicopee police officers who took and shared gruesome crime-scene photos of a 2011 murder victim, Amanda Plasse. Bissonnette claimed that he didn’t find out about the incident until eight months after Plasse’s murder—a claim that raised many eyebrows in and around Chicopee. In addition to the Plasse case, Bissonnette and his team were involved in a number of other sticky issues, including a dubious effort to lure a casino to town and an AG investigation of election fraud in which a top political advisor admitted to forging names on a petition in support of extending the mayor’s term from two to four years.

A lawyer by trade—albeit a lawyer with a black mark on his record, a 1992 public reprimand for professional misconduct by the state Board of Bar overseers—Bissonnette must have known that an order to scrub the electronic devices he and his staff used would raise questions. So why do it?

The most logical answer I come up with is this: he was more concerned about what was on his computers than about the consequences of a possible investigation into his records purge.•

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