N.Y. governor doesn’t use state e-mail, avoids disclosure
ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who promised the most transparent government in history, doesn’t conduct any state business on a state e-mail account or through his personal e-mail, according to a records request by the Associated Press.
Cuomo, a Democrat, instead makes frequent telephone calls and uses the PIN messaging system from his BlackBerry cell phone, neither of which leaves a record of the communication.
That seems like an attempt to circumvent open-records law requirements, said Mark Caramanica, freedom of information director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit organization that provides legal help to journalists.
“Public officials should know better,” Caramanica said. “If it doesn’t pass the smell test, they shouldn’t be doing it. Obviously this does not reflect well … for someone who ran on a platform of being transparent. This certainly runs counter to that.”
No e-mails from Cuomo concerning official business exist dating to his first day in office on Jan. 1, 2011, his counsel said in response to the AP’s request for records under the Freedom of Information Law. Cuomo’s use of PIN, or personal identification number, messages was first reported by the New York Daily News.
And earlier this month, Cuomo announced a new archives policy for long-term storage of internal data. It states e-mails “are not records and are therefore suitable for immediate destruction.”
“The Executive Chamber adopts the NYS Archives’ policy with respect to e-mails but goes further to state that all electronic communications, whether by e-mail, text or Blackberry PIN, will fall under this policy,” Cuomo’s policy states.
State- and national-level politicians rarely conduct business using the e-mail accounts assigned to them after several corporate investigations and political scandals hinged on the records, such as when then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was charged with perjury after text messages contradicted testimony he gave during a 2007 police whistle-blowers’ trial. The sexually explicit messages showed he lied when he denied under oath that he had a romantic relationship with a one-time chief of staff. He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, resigned and served 99 days in jail.
Elected officials in only a few states, including Florida, Colorado and Tennessee, make their electronic communications paid for by taxpayers subject to open-records laws, the Reporters Committee said. Last year, Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law a measure to prohibit release of public officials’ text messages, voice mails and other electronic communications, following concern that access had been abused by journalists.
But any e-mails that are kept can be subpoenaed by local, state and federal prosecutors, as Cuomo did when he was state attorney general.
If e-mails from Cuomo concerning state business existed they would be considered state records, said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, a state agency that advises the government, the public and the news media on openness and privacy laws. But Freeman said the records likely would be considered preliminary, interagency communication, which wouldn’t have to be released short of a court’s subpoena.
Freeman said the Freedom of Information Law defines a record “broadly” to mean data in any physical form.
Common Cause-NY, a citizens’ lobbyist that seeks clean elections and ethical standards for elected officials, said there is a legitimate need to allow officials to freely discuss ideas privately. But its executive director, Susan Lerner, says there also is a need for the public and historians to see how decisions were made, even if the data release is delayed, in part to avoid repeating mistakes and to replicate successes.
“No historic record is equally unacceptable,” she said. “There is a sweet spot in the middle. Unfortunately, this administration has not found it.”
Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto had no comment for this story.