While researching the Oct. 3 news story on concerns about the Cottonwood Heights Police Department’s approach to DUI law enforcement and the struggles of several local businesses to survive, I obtained an internal city e-mail that in 2010 raised concerns about Cottonwood Heights' transparency.
The Feb. 18, 2010, e-mail from then-CHPD Officer Chris Gebhardt is addressed to the then-city recorder, the deputy city manager, a councilman and the city attorney. Gebhardt prefaces it by describing the issue he addresses as “pretty significant, with major implications for the city.”
He goes on to say that e-mails “are being deleted and/or removed. ... The impact of these removals affects the ability to provide GRAMA searches of requested e-mail. For example, most recent searches were only 70 percent accurate (an estimate).”
You can read the entirety of the e-mail below.
The problem, Gebhardt explains in the e-mail, is that city employees were at the time using multiple different ways of accessing and storing e-mails, resulting in some e-mails being permanently deleted.
Gebhardt then went on to address concerns surrounding dealing with the issue with the purchase of an e-mail archiving tool. “The strongest concern is that some e-mails are better served not being retained by the City,” he wrote. “If the e-mail is not available, it can’t harm the City with its release.” While that appeared to be a “viable” argument, he continued, “knowing that e-mails are being destroyed or otherwise rendered unavailable is against the spirit of the GRAMA act."
He went on to cast the two potential sides of the argument as, “Would you rather the headline in the SL Tribune read: “Cottonwood Heights knowingly destroys e-mails,” or “Cottonwood Heights staff disagree with residents” to borrow from a recent request”? He concluded, “Transparency of government has been touted by our City Officials.”
After City Weekly outlined the main concerns in the email, Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore said, “I’m not aware of any intentional efforts to ever delete e-mails. Every city deals with this issue; nobody has a perfect system. We’re as good at [e-mail storage and GRAMA response] as anyone.”
Gebhardt did not
return calls seeking comment.
In response to a GRAMA request to Cottonwood Heights for the e-mail and responses to it, deputy city manager Linda Dunlavy supplied several e-mails, but not the original Gebhardt communication to Dunlavy, a councilman and the city attorney that City Weekly had obtained. Dunlavy wrote that five e-mails were not disclosed because of their “status as protected attorney-client communications between the City and its attorney.”