A new Jefferson Parish Inspector General’s Office report on the leak last year of a confidential memo about the parish’s efforts to lease its two public hospitals has sparked criticism from a council member who has criticized the office in the past and who argued the latest investigation was “absolutely politically motivated” and an attempt to “embarrass” his office and staff.
The IG’s report, released Friday, is critical of a lack of policies in place to prevent the release of confidential information and to ensure employees of Parish Council members do not use private emails for public business.
Last spring, Jeff Zapata, an aide to Councilman Ben Zahn, forwarded a confidential memo produced by Inspector General David McClintock to a reporter for The Times-Picayune.
Zapata said he had not realized the email he sent included a copy of the memo, which concerned the ongoing hospital lease process and was supposed to remain private for 48 hours. He reported the incident to McClintock shortly afterward.
The new report focuses in part on the fact that Zapata sent the email from a private account. It says there should be policies in place to prevent public employees from using their own accounts for parish business. This is important, the report says, in terms of complying with public records laws.
The report says the parish also lacks policies on handling confidential information.
Zahn took issue with the findings in a response McClintock included with the report. He noted that Zapata had reported the incident on his own and argued that those who receive memos or reports from the inspector general are not bound to keep them private.
He also argued that McClintock had used the investigation as a weapon, noting that a draft version of the IG’s report on the leak — which is typically provided to the subject of an investigation for an official response — was forwarded to all council members and members of the administration and not just his office.
“This is unquestionably an attempt to embarrass the District 4 office and staff, as well as myself,” Zahn said.
McClintock, in the report, said the purpose of the report was to provide guidance on proper policy, and he noted that the report prominently said the incident had been reported by Zapata himself.
It could be “best practice” to have a policy in place regarding private email accounts, Zahn said in his response, but he said the incident itself did not violate public records laws. He also said Zapata had not done anything illegal or unethical.
Zapata said Friday he used his personal email because, shortly before the incident, he had discovered that an aide in another council office had been listed as an administrator on his email account. That would have allowed the other aide to access the account, he said.
That issue was discovered by the parish’s information technology staff, but it remains unclear how or why the access was granted, and a final report on the matter has not been issued, Zapata said. However, as a result of that issue, he said, he began forwarding all his emails to his own account.
“I find it interesting that the inspector general, whose functions involve waste in government, would take months to investigate a self-reported inadvertent error in forwarding an email and subsequently have his staff submit a 200-page-plus report to the council members,” Zapata said.
The report includes an entire scanned copy of the parish’s policy and procedures manual and several long email chains, in addition to the report itself and responses from officials.
Both Zahn and Zapata also noted that McClintock sent copies of the memo to people who are not parish employees and who do not have parish email addresses.
McClintock’s report says 37 recipients received the memo, including seven who are not employed by the parish. Five were members of the commission that oversees the Inspector General’s Office, one was an attorney for East Jefferson General Hospital and the other was the CEO of West Jefferson Medical Center.
McClintock’s report says those recipients were “arguably” entitled to receive the report and notes that the report was sent from official parish servers.
“We fail to see how any of these correspondence rise to the level of a confidential report being sent from a parish server to a personal yahoo.com account and then to a member of the media, regardless of the intent of the latter,” according to the report.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.