Mayor Mitch Landrieu will stop using a private email account he has been relying on to conduct public business and will allow city attorneys to go through his messages and archive those that are work-related, his office announced late Friday.
Landrieu’s private account with Google’s Gmail apparently came with few of the typical safeguards in place on government email accounts that ensure messages are being properly archived and provided in response to public-records requests.
The mayor’s use of a private email account for city business was revealed earlier this week by The New Orleans Advocate and other media outlets that verified its existence through public-records requests.
Landrieu’s office nevertheless insists that the mayor has followed the letter of the law.
“Although the mayor has fully and consistently complied with all public records laws since taking office, Mayor Landrieu will discontinue using his Gmail for work purposes, and all staff have been instructed to contact him through his .gov email account,” Landrieu spokesman Brad Howard said in an emailed statement. “The City Attorney’s Office will be granted access to his Gmail account and will review and archive all work-related emails.”
Howard said Landrieu is the only top administration official who is known to be using a private email account to do city business.
With some exceptions, emails related to a public official’s duties are generally considered public records, whether they go to an official or private account.
But while safeguards are in place to ensure those that go through the city’s servers are preserved and produced upon request, those measures were not in place for Landrieu’s Gmail account.
Typically, government systems allow designated “public records custodians” to access government accounts where most work-related emails would presumably be kept — a measure that theoretically provides at least some distance between the account holder and the person sorting out which messages should be made public.
Emails to accounts at nola.gov, the city’s domain, are archived and available to city attorneys and information technology staff. Those offices are able to access all messages sent and received from the account, including those that have been deleted by their users, Howard said.
No measures to protect those records appear to have been in place for the Gmail account used by Landrieu, however.
With Landrieu’s accounts, city staffers would print out emails in accordance with search terms and then turn them over to the legal department to review, Howard said. It’s unclear which staffers were responsible for that task.
That apparently means that emails that already had been deleted by the mayor would not be available for review and appears to be a sign that the attorneys fulfilling public-records requests were not granted direct access to either account.
Such a distinction could prove important. During Mayor Ray Nagin’s stormy tenure, reporters were able to uncover shady dealings between administration officials and city vendors through emails that were provided to them by the City Attorney’s Office in response to public-records requests.
Emails to both of Landrieu’s accounts from early May that were reviewed by The New Orleans Advocate contain a small number of largely mundane messages, such as daily schedules, summaries of media reports about city government and notices from city departments.
Howard said earlier this week that the mayor prefers face-to-face or phone contact for his communications to using email.
WDSU-TV reported that it requested all of the mayor’s emails, from private and public accounts, for three months of 2014. The station was provided with just 35 emails sent by the mayor over that period, it reported.
The station noted that other high-profile public officials are much more prolific users of email, with Jefferson Parish President John Young sending out roughly 900 emails per month. Landrieu said the emails he turned over to WDSU represented the entirety of his activity for that period.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.