Sponsored link
Friday, July 30, 2021

Sponsored link

UncategorizedPolitics on Tuesday: Private phones, public business

Politics on Tuesday: Private phones, public business

What if the mayor is communicating with his aides, his allies, local businesses, whatever, with his personal email and cell phone, doing public business in a way that avoids the intent of the open-records laws?

This came up early in the Obama administration, when the president was allowed to keep his BlackBerry, but only with additional security features. His emails will be part of the public record forever, under the Presidential Records Act.

But that doesn’t trickle down to the local level, where I’ve many times sought email records from city officials only to be told that they “don’t exist.” That’s probably because they exist on private phones and email accounts.

As far as I know, this question has never been tested in court. But if everyone’s doing what Christie’s aides are doing, it makes a mockery of any public records law.

Let’s suppose that, as with Chris Christie’s staff, the mayor (or a senior aide) has been using his private cell phone to text with Ron Conway about another tech-industry tax break. And along the way, he mentions that there’s a city contract coming up that one of Conway’s companies ought to bid on. That’s city business, and it absolutely ought to be public; if he’d used a city email account, it would be.

But his personal cell phone? Or his personal email? Maybe not.

There is massive potential for mischief here.

Could the city decide that, while it’s fine to use personal electronic devices for official business, those texts have to be made public and can’t be deleted (as per city Sunshine law?) Or could the city decide that it’s against the rules to use private devices to engage in official city business? How do we deal with this? Because this is how public business is done now. In secret.

Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.
Sponsored link


  1. yea, they’re public records. I’ve been involved with at least two instances – up in the foothills and down on the central coast – where public officials were using private accounts for public business. In fact there was a lawsuit brought by the 1st amendment coalition against the city of auburn for this very fact. it was settled out but the outcome was disclosure of information and an agreement to issue all city council members an official city account for any and all city business.

Comments are closed.

Sponsored link

Top reads

SF to pay $8 million after cops framed an innocent man for murder

Plus: An urban farm in the Portola, and shadows on two city parks ... That's The Agenda for July 26-August 1.

Review: Wangechi Mutu brings cosmic energies to Legion of Honor

Stunningly reverberating with the collection, 'I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?' tells different stories of art

The campaign against CRT is all about preserving white privilege

That's the story the right-wing politicians don't want to talk about—because it's still a very real part of American life.

More by this author

PHOTOS: Second People’s March traces original 1970 Pride March path

Full of protest, music, and killer looks, the alternative Pride march brought LGBTQ color to Polk Street.

Watch: ‘Girl Shock’ author Maria Konner on trans journey from ‘tech dude’ to fabulous

New memoir takes colorful and important trip through the life of one of our beloved nightlife 'fembassadors'

Reconnect with the Bay: Our readers’ favorite things to do now we’re back

Here's what you told us you couldn't wait to do in the wake of reopening.
Sponsored link

You might also likeRELATED