The City recently received an unusual FOIA/APRA document request from the Newport Daily News. The NDN requested all of my email correspondence to the other elected officials over the last year. Only mine.
I don’t understand why my emails were singled out, and so I've been somewhat conflicted about how to respond.
Elected official correspondence is exempt from disclosure under APRA. It is specifically codified as exemption (m) of the twenty-five (25) exemptions. This is black letter law. But . . . procedurally, the only person who can assert the exemption is City Manager Jane Howington. This would be unfortunate if I needed the exemption – for a number of reasons: I opposed her recent raise request, and have been openly critical of some poor decisions with respect to the Newport Yacht Club lease and the Clarke School loan extension recommendations. (By the way, if Jane is the gatekeeper of councilor emails, there won’t be many councilors who will oppose her next raise request!)
In any event, the Daily News granted an extension to the city for their request, so I won’t know her decision until January 10, 2013.
I didn't have much faith that the City Manager would follow the APRA exemption, so I made my own request for emails between her and another councilor. And in response, the City Manager confirmed my assessment of the situation.
Jane denied my APRA request for correspondence between herself and another councilor on the basis of the “elected official correspondence” exemption, but reserved the right to waive that very same exemption in the context of the Daily News request for correspondence between myself and other elected officials. In other words, she was actually using the APRA “elected official correspondence” exemption for other councilors, just not for me.
This is typical of her passive-aggressive style.
And it’s forced me to reflect, and to consider an appropriate response.
Over the last week, I've asked why the Daily News asked for only my emails. In response, I’ve learned that the Daily News was told that my emails might contain threats of violence which might support the placement of police officers at council meetings.
I was absolutely shocked. There certainly are no such emails from me. I have never made any threats by email or in any other fashion. I wouldn’t make such threats; and it is remarkable to me that anyone could believe such whispered nonsense.
But it has changed how I am viewing the Daily News’ request. They have a duty to follow up on these very serious allegations, and I respect that. And so I am withdrawing my personal opposition.
I will not ask the City Manager to assert the “elected official correspondence" exemption. If she feels that the request is appropriate and merits an APRA response, I will be glad to turn over all of my emails from both my “cityofnewport.com” and “gmail.com” accounts. This is significant because the responsive emails are almost all in my gmail account – an account to which the City Manager has no access.
And if the City Manager asserts the exemption on her own, I will renew the open offers I’ve made to the Daily News to sit down and review all of my communications with my colleagues. I think this is the only way to handle this situation.