CHICAGO – The city of Chicago released thousands of e-mail messages from Mayor Rahm Emanuel of the personal accounts on Wednesday, as part of a settlement with a government watchdog organization.
Emanuel’s office said that the making public of the messages with respect to the center that are sent to and from Emanuel dates back to 2011, when former White House chief of staff took office.
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The disclosure followed years of wrangling between the Better Government Association and the City Hall, which argued that the messages not be made public. The guard dog of the group, and the Chicago Tribune also called on by the mayor and two Cook County judges ruled against the city, saying e-mails sent on private devices are not automatically exempt from disclosure laws.
Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, called it a “major step forward”, but says: “it is a pity that it took a lawsuit to produce the transparency we all deserve.”
“The use of private e-mail accounts that hide the transaction of the public business threatens to render meaningless the open records laws that allow citizens to make their government accountable,” he said.
The debate about whether public business conducted on private devices and accounts, it should be subject to open records laws has grown in recent years with the explosion of technology, such as smartphones. And the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton came under fire for using a private e-mail server, as she was secretary of state.
Emanuel’s office said a new policy would prohibit employees of the municipality to do business on personal e-mail accounts and they are required to have a work-related messages to their government account, so that they will be subject to the public are looking for. The mayor of the private account will be reviewed quarterly and all messages that relate to the official business sent to the city.
“The new standard we have clarified not only for me but for all in Chicago, 30,000 employees,” Emanuel said in a statement via e-mail.
Chicago Tribune publisher and editor-in-chief Bruce Dold said in a Wednesday statement that the newspaper had not reached an agreement with the city to settle September 2015 lawsuit. He noted the newspaper “important legal victory” this month when a Cook County judge ordered the city and Emanuel to an index of e-mails and sms-messages to the mayor sent on personal devices.
Dold said that he welcomed the release of the records, although it should not have required extensive legal measures for the protection of the right to this information.”