A proposal before Hermon voters to have an outside firm test the security of the town’s internet network has pitted the Town Council against the local school department, which says the review of the network it runs is unnecessary.
Hermon voters will decide at a special town meeting on Thursday whether to spend $54,000 to have an outside firm review and test the internet network, which is the source of the town’s internet access for municipal operations.
The proposal comes amid councilors’ questions about the school department’s relationship with Nightscape Tech, the local company that provides internet service to residents using the school department’s network.
The school department’s IT manager is a co-founder of the company.
The security review is one of six questions on the warrant for the special town meeting. The town is required to get permission from voters before spending $25,000 or more, according to Town Manager Harold Kroll.
If approved by voters, the town would hire a Pennsylvania firm to perform the security review and test and conduct an inventory of technology equipment and software owned by the school department.
Hermon School Superintendent Jim Chasse on Wednesday called the proposal unnecessary.
“The school department hires auditors to review various aspects of its operations, including vendor relationships and activities, and to date, they have not identified any issues,” he said.
The superintendent also questioned whether the town had the legal authority “to unilaterally audit or investigate the school department.”
Councilors voted 5-1 on Aug. 24, with one councilor absent, to hold the special town meeting.
Councilor Anthony Reynolds voted against holding it, saying it should be up to the school department to initiate that kind of review, not the council.
Nightscape Tech was incorporated in 2015 and is located in Hermon. One of its co-founders is Jeffrey Wheeler, the IT manager for the Hermon School Department since the mid-1990s.
The company has collaborated with the Hermon School Department to provide internet access to local residents using the school’s network, taking advantage of the network’s capacity during hours when school isn’t in session, according to the company’s website. That collaboration appears to have evolved from a dial-up internet connection offered free to residents the year after Hermon High School opened in 1995.
The service, now through an upgraded, fiber-optic network, costs $9.99 a month for residents and $34.99 for small businesses on top of a $99.99 installation fee.
Councilor Charles Lever IV, who works as head of IT for the Bangor Housing Authority, earlier this year raised questions about the relationship between Nightscape and the school department and about network security practices.
Lever said in a Facebook post that the school department didn’t answer most of the questions and refused to meet with the council multiple times.
“The town owns the fiber optic cable but it is administered through the school department,” Lever said. “Nightscape uses the internet connection that belongs to the school (paid for with taxpayer money and federal grants from the ERate program of the Federal Communication Commission) and sells it back to residents and businesses of the Town of Hermon for a fee.”
Lever didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Chasse, however, said the school department did respond to the council’s questions and that he has not received follow-up questions from the council.
The superintendent expressed concern on Wednesday that the council’s request would damage the relationship between the town and the school department. He also said a test and audit of the system weren’t needed.
The school department “has a robust firewall to protect student and staff information,” Chasse said.
“We have not had breaches in our network and our auditors have tested and approved our purchases and process and verified no reason to believe any company is operating out of our facility,” he said.
Representatives from Nightscape Tech did not respond to a request for comment.
The special town meeting takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Hermon Public Safety Building.