D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is urging council members to follow his lead in nixing the practice of allowing city officials and staff to use personal emails to conduct city business.
Gray's executive order on the policy was issued last week and addresses a practice that some officials have said they use to avoid having their correspondences subject to public-records requests. However, the mayor's order does not apply to the city's legislative branch, as he does not have jurisdiction over council members and their staff.
According to mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro, Gray "absolutely believes the council should adopt a similar policy."
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson agreed that council members should not conduct city business on their personal accounts, but added that the issue was something the council needed to "look at" more.
"The issue of emails wasn't around 15 years ago," he said. "This is a new area we have to work through."
Gray's order stipulates that "only in rare circumstances," like when access to District email is not available, should personal email accounts be used be used for city business. Still, the order says that in those cases, staff and officials should send all correspondence to their city email address too.
The mandate comes seven months after Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi testified in a deposition that he uses his personal account "occasionally for office purposes." Gandhi
said those emails included conversations with the mayor and council members. In a separate deposition, his chief of staff, Angell Jacobs, said she also used her personal account so that conversations between her and Gandhi would not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Gandhi spokesman David Umansky said the CFO, whose office is included in the executive order, has only used personal email for city business when he has had technical issues.
"He wasn't hiding anything," Umansky said. "He agrees completely with the order and has been doing it all along."
Gray is also pushing a bill that would grant more leniency to the city government when responding to public-records requests.
Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham, who often uses his personal email for city business, said his long-standing practice was out of convenience to him -- not out of trying to hide.
"This whole atmosphere up here is getting incredible," he said, referring to the heightened scrutiny on the city's officials, including several federal investigations. "[My personal email] is publicized on my website, it's on my business card. Nearly everybody knows it and uses it."