Gov. Bill Haslam has set up a private email system for himself and key staffers, reports WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams, likening the situation to that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server. It’s linked to the governor’s personal website, billhaslam.com.
In principle, experts agree that having a private email to make sure that state email is not used for political purposes is a good thing. The question is: what happens when that private email is used for public business?
“This is what got Hillary Clinton in trouble, and so I think the public sees this as an issue,” said Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
Fisher questioned whether public business is being conducted out of the public eye.
“By using a private email account, while those emails may still be subject to the Public Records Act, they are essentially under the radar and nobody knows about them,” she added.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates filed a public records request to obtain a snapshot of emails caught up in the state’s computer system sent to or from the governor’s private server. We found state budget officials — from state accounts — briefing the governor himself at a billhaslam.com email address.
The governor’s executive assistant, Janet McGaha, also uses billhaslam.com, corresponding in a couple of cases with then chief-of-staff Mark Cate — again at billhaslam.com.
We showed the emails to Nashville Tea Party activist Ben Cunningham.
“Obviously, they are using this private server to discuss public business,” Cunningham said. “Those are public records.”
In one example, Cate used that account to email an education activist about Common Core, copying Haslam’s education commissioner — also apparently using private email. In another case, a lobbyist emailed Cate at billhaslam.com about a letter he wanted the governor to sign.
…The governor’s office says any use of that account for official government business was “inadvertent and a rare occurrence.” And like Hillary Clinton, officials say the fact that such emails were eventually forwarded to the state email system shows they weren’t trying to hide anything.
The governor’s communications director, Dave Smith, added: “Any insinuation that the governor or this office deliberately used non-state emails for official state business is wrong and misleading.”