Attorney: Jenny Durkan’s staff uses private Gmail accounts to gauge public image
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wants to know what the public thinks of her — but she finds out through private Gmail conversations, according to the result of public disclosure requests.
The Seattle Times reported last Friday that Durkan’s staffers and political consultants used private Gmail accounts, rather than their official city email accounts, to discuss last spring’s controversial head tax with one another and even with private corporations before it was repealed.
Government watchdog attorney Lincoln Beauregard, who, like the Times, is papering city leadership for their head tax-era communications, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that some of these discussions included closely monitoring news stories centered around the mayor to gauge public opinion.
According to the documents, Durkan’s chief of staff (then spokesperson), Stephanie Formas, would do Google searches such as “Jenny Durkan” and “Jenny Durkan of Seattle” several times throughout the business day to find news articles about Durkan. She would then forward these articles to Durkan from a private Gmail address.
“The mayor of this city is so invested in finding out about the media coverage of her, that she’s willing to devote public resources to that, and not tell you what she’s reading,” observed Beauregard.
He said that he has hundreds of these kinds of emails in his possession, thanks to the public disclosure requests.
“I pay a lot of taxes … I want to know what percentage of my tax dollars are paying for Jenny Durkan to Google herself,” he said. “I have a right to know that.”
The latest set of documents was declared public in October after a King County Superior Court judge ordered the city to turn them over as part of Beauregard’s current lawsuit against the city over political leaders’ actions during the head tax repeal process.
“As a litigator, I can tell when somebody is hiding documents … I had to go in with litigation skills and catch them,” Beauregard said. “And if somebody doesn’t do that, they’re never going to put this stuff out there; nobody is going to know.”
For Beauregard, who previously represented Delvonn Heckard in the sexual abuse lawsuit against former Mayor Ed Murray, the private Gmail messages are not the most troubling part of what he has found in the public documents. Instead, it is that “they said in writing to The Seattle Times … ‘We’ve already given you all the documents in August.'”
“You can see, by the way in which they’re doing this, that it’s not inadvertent, it’s deliberate,” he said. “And when they’re caught, they’re lying. And that’s just really offensive to me, as a citizen.”
The attorney does not agree with Dori that the private Gmail communication alone warrants a resignation on the mayor’s part, but the dishonesty is another matter for him.
“Personally, as a citizen and as somebody who is an advocate on this, I think that the thing that comes borderline worthy of resignation is lying to the public,” he said. “Specifically, Jenny Durkan trotted out her spokesperson and told them in the news that these were not official documents. So now, it’s not just a little mistake where you come out and apologize — it’s lying to the public.”
He has one request for Durkan and her staff.
“I’d like to see her, as a leader, if she wanted to ever earn my support back and maybe other people’s, just say, ‘I made a mistake,'” Beauregard said. “Just say, ‘We won’t use our Gmails anymore, and I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not going to send my spokesperson out to lie to you.'”