San Jose Releases Mayor’s Private Emails: What We’ve Learned


San José Mayor Sam Liccardo regularly uses his private email account to discuss city issues, communicate with local nonprofits and strategize with lobbyists, revealed a San José Spotlight analysis of his recent emails.

A discussion thread also shows how Liccardo potentially mixes up city resources with his nonprofit Solutions San Jose, an advocacy organization formed earlier this year. The city sees no problem in using public resources on a private non-municipal entity.

A mine of private emails posted in the San José Spotlight this month has shed light on how much the mayor relies on his Gmail address to conduct city business and how much his use of an account private is well accepted by municipal authorities. San José Spotlight, represented by attorney Karl Olson, requested the mayor’s private emails after exclusively revealing how Liccardo used his private email to circumvent public records laws, has promised to delete a thread public chat and encouraged resident Scott Largent to send him a private email about a town. question.

The city posted nearly 1,600 pages of June and July records, all linked to Liccardo’s private Gmail account. Records show that Liccardo sends and receives hundreds of city business-related emails every month through his Gmail account.

“This is my direct email address, which I read three or four times a week,” wrote Liccardo, a San Jose resident who expressed frustration with the VTA leadership on June 23.

Public works, private emails

Why is the mayor using a private email address to conduct public business, raising questions of transparency? Liccardo says the town’s messaging system isn’t working.

“Using the (Microsoft) Outlook platform, especially remotely,” Liccardo told the San José Spotlight, citing emails stuck in his outbox, syncing issues and slow service. “Running America’s 10th largest city requires communication that actually works… I have to make sure that people are actually receiving emails and that I am able to receive their emails. “

The mayor has come under scrutiny – and a Supreme Court case in 2017 – for his use of a private email account. Using private email to conduct city business is not illegal, but storing communications on private servers could expose city officials to potential violations of the California Public Records Act. First Amendment Coalition lawyer Glen Smith said. And Liccardo failed to deliver private emails that should be made public, first saying that there were none between him and Largent.

“The danger arises when, in response to a public records (request) law, the city treats (private emails) separately,” Smith said. “If the city employees who are supposed to respond to the demands of the Public Records Act are unaware of the existence of the account, (these emails) are never verified.”

This specific problem arose in July when the San José Spotlight discovered that the mayor had not disclosed his private emails with Largent in response to a registration request. He deleted the conversation from his municipal account, the emails show.

A screenshot of Mayor Sam Liccardo’s email asking a resident to use his private Gmail account and promising to remove the message from his government account.

“There is no violation of the law on public archives,” Liccardo told the San José Spotlight. “Our town lawyer has been very clear on this issue.”

San José Solutions

This news organization’s review of Liccardo’s private emails now raises questions about whether the mayor is using the city’s time and resources for his secretive advocacy group, Solutions San Jose.

The mayor quietly formed Solutions San Jose in February, an advocacy group that aims to lobby and shape public policy. He acts as secretary, according to the organization’s registration form. The organization lobbied heavily on issues related to the city, including water tariff increases, housing policy and the reopening of public schools.

When San José Spotlight requested emails related to the advocacy group, it received a widespread denial – the city claimed only three emails existed and that they were subject to attorney-client privilege after that. news organization appealed the decision.

But on June 15, a resident emailed Solutions San Jose requesting shelter for their employee. The resident copied Liccardo’s private email address.

There is no record of a response from Liccardo. Instead, the mayor passed the investigation on to Nathan Ho, a staff member in his office. The city redacted the email, citing the “privilege of the deliberative process.”

Screenshot of a request sent to Liccardo’s private messaging and Solutions San Jose.

The privilege of deliberative process protects communications that would expose an agency’s decision-making process and is often applied to contracts or collective bargaining, said Sean McMorris, policy consultant for the California Common Cause watchdog group.

“If he’s just forwarding the email to an employee in town who has access to resources that can help that person, there’s nothing wrong with that,” McMorris said. “But if he tried to use the city in a way that would somehow benefit his nonprofit, there could be concerns.”

Liccardo referred the questions on Solutions San Jose’s email to the city attorney’s response.

A city lawyer said it was not a violation to use city resources for the mayor’s private non-profit association. The issue in the email “could be referred to council” and should not be disclosed publicly, said deputy city attorney Arlene Silva.

“A voter contacted the mayor to ask for help with housing a homeless employee in San Jose,” Silva said. “Housing and homelessness in the City of San Jose is a city business and currently a priority for City Council.”

Screenshot of one of the heavily redacted private emails shown on the San José Spotlight.

Heavy writing

Much of the 1,600 pages of documents posted on the San José Spotlight are blacked out, making it difficult to assess what the public affairs discussions entailed.

The city cited the privilege of the deliberative process about 100 times for drafting discussions on housing, homelessness and the city’s budget. It has also redacted personal information such as private email addresses, phone numbers, and names over 200 times.

The city has written heavily on discussions about new emergency housing sites and potential funding for the struggling nonprofit team Downtown Streets, citing broad exemptions to the public records law. In some cases, the city even drafted the subject line. He has also withheld certain emails which he claims to be private in Liccardo and have nothing to do with city affairs.

Silva defended the redactions.

“Disclosure would slow down the frank discussions and the flow of information necessary for optimal decision-making and political scrutiny issues within the mayor’s office,” she told the San José Spotlight.

A common practice

The mayor still uses his government email account, Chief of Staff Jim Reed said. But Liccardo relies on his private messaging to get things done.

Liccardo’s senior advisers, including Kelly Kline, Scott Green, Nathan Ho and assistant Isela Chaparro, often directly – and only – emailed the mayor’s private Gmail account to keep him up to date on city ​​affairs, according to records.

Other city officials, including District Attorney Nora Frimann, Police Chief Anthony Mata, Deputy City Manager Lee Wilcox and Director of Economic Development Nanci Klein, also communicated using the mayor’s private account in June and July. Even Google executives have emailed Liccardo on his private account as the tech giant seeks to build a huge campus in downtown San Jose.

Liccardo also used his Gmail address to contact White House officials in July and to contact the state’s Justice Department for help with his gun control initiative, according to the records.

If this raises cybersecurity concerns, the city won’t say it.

“The IT department does not monitor private accounts, and therefore the city cannot comment on this issue,” Silva said.

The emails show the mayor often works with Cruz Strategies as well as lobbyist Leslie Pollner – whose clients include the City of San Jose and Alphabet, Google’s parent company – and public relations guru Stephanie Craig who has won six-figure public contracts to strengthen Liccardo’s profile. with the national media.

As the mayor continues to use his private account, McMorris said the public would rightly question whether he is obeying the law.

“It is up to him to decide whether he wants to continue to have the public scrutinized why he is using his private account and not his municipal account,” McMorris said. “It doesn’t matter if there is something outrageous about it, the fact that he uses his personal email account as much as he does is a story in itself.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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