As a result of a BGA investigation and legal action, The City of Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have agreed to release all of Emanuel’s private emails related to city business—subject to any applicable legal exemptions—and institute a new policy that will ban city employees and officials from using their private email accounts to conduct city business.
The city’s change in practices comes in response to Freedom of Information Act requests and lawsuits filed by the BGA, and separately by the Chicago Tribune, and follows more than a year of hard-fought litigation and rulings by two Cook County judges that public officials’ emails are not outside the scope of FOIA simply because they are on a private account.
“It’s unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to produce the transparency we all deserve,” said BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw. “But that said, this is a major step forward in the fight for transparency at City Hall.”
The BGA will report on the content of the mayor’s emails after receiving and reviewing them.
The city’s new policy, which will be explained in writing to all city employees and officials, prohibits them from “using their private or other non-City email accounts for the transaction of public business. This policy will also require that, if an employee or official receives an email pertaining to the transaction of City business on a non-City email account, the employee or official must promptly forward the email to the City email account of the employee or official. A failure to comply with the written policy may subject the employee or official to discipline.”
“Use of private email accounts that hide the transaction of public business threatens to render meaningless the open records laws that allow citizens to hold their government accountable.” Shaw said. “The new city policy requiring public business to be conducted where it’s subject to public scrutiny is a sea change in transparency and consequently in good government.”
Emanuel claimed from the start of his tenure at City Hall in 2011 that his leadership would be among the most transparent in the nation.
But accessing public records at City Hall—especially documents about hot topics of those pertaining directly to the mayor himself—has often been met with delays, obfuscation or court battles.
“We hope the City will take the lessons of this case, the Laquan McDonald case, and many others to heart and continue to seriously reform its transparency policies in a fundamental way without the need for future litigation,” said BGA lawyer Matt Topic, who filed the FOIA lawsuit, as well as the McDonald case and others.
BGA succeeded previously in forcing the former chief of staff of the state Comptroller’s Office to release records related to public business from her private email accounts, and will continue to investigate and fight this issue at all levels of Illinois government.
Search the document below by clicking the expand box in the lower left corner of the emails at the bottom of this story. The Document Cloud page allows you to search the email file.
For more information, contact Mary Frances O’Connor at 773-383-1009.