Loose Lips

Pols and Their Private Emails

This morning Mayor Vince Gray told the press he doesn't use his personal email address to discuss city business. Gray was responding to the news that CFO Nat Gandhi uses a non-DC.gov email addresses as a way to avoid having his messages disclosed via the Freedom of Information Act. Gray says he doesn't want his administration doing that kind of thing.

"I certainly don't do it," says Gray, adding that he has a private account, but only uses it for private matters, not city ones.

Oh really?

LL has long known about the mayor's personal Yahoo! account that denizens of the Wilson Building have used to contact Gray. At the beginning of the year, LL put in a FOIA request for all the emails between the mayor's then-chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, and the mayor's private account. LL didn't get back much, but it's enough to suggest that city business does wind up on the mayor's personal account every now and then.

To wit: On Jan. 27, Hall wrote "Confirmed" in an email to the mayor's private account, in a message whose subject line indicated they were talking about the director's position at the Department of Housing and Community Development. (You can read the two emails LL got back from his FOIA request below.)

Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro tells LL that the mayor may occasionally get city-related emails sent to his private account, but "goes out of his way" to respond to them via his city-owned account so that the discussions are preserved in the city's system. That sounds reasonable, but we'll have to wait on another FOIA response to confirm if that's true.

At any event, it's pretty common for pols to use private emails to avoid the occasionally harsh glare of FOIAs. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham does almost all his council business on a private account and doesn't try and hide it. And, as you can see below, former Mayor Adrian Fenty used his Hotmail account to discuss scheduling news conferences and a bonus for City Administrator Allen Lew.

UPDATE: LL just obtained a bunch more of Fenty's old emails. They show that the former mayor regularly used his private email address from his '06 campaign (adrian@fenty06.com) to discuss all manner of city business up through at least 2009. What's notable is that Fenty would use his private email to discuss city business with his attorney general, Peter Nickles, who apparently didn't have any problems with the setup. That's a big contrast with Nickles' replacement, Irv Nathan, who issued a statement saying he "strongly [discourages the] use of personal email accounts for official business."

Here are some of Gray's non-city emails:

And Fenty's:

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • http://dcdotnerd.wordpress.com DC.nerd

    But you note how each of these emails was found to respond to the FOIA requests because recipients included dc.gov email addresses. (Not fool-proof, because those people have to have their email searched pursuant to the request to have the emails found, but close.)

    I won't go into my entire rant here, but I do think that a bigger-than-necessary deal is being made out of this issue. (FOIA compliance in general is a separate issue. I'll wait to rant about it later.)

  • Keith B.

    That's bold of Graham, though in the WaPo article he points out it's not against any kind of rules. Maybe VO's on to something with the CMs treating this as a part time, side job. Give these fools an inch...

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