Poof! Emails go up in smoke! Penny Ballem's Sent Items folder is mysteriously empty
Not long ago, we wanted to test out how open and transparent Vancouver’s new hand-picked City Manager was when it came to providing us with access to her correspondence. There are rumours swirling around City Hall these days that senior managers have been asked to go “offline” and use personal email accounts in order to conduct city business. If true, this type of activity would result in huge swaths of information being off-limits through Freedom of Information legislation. We are currently working on a bigger story related to the use of private email at City Hall, and my colleague Mike Klassen will be reporting out on that shortly.
City Hall insiders tell us that in order to avoid getting her emails caught up in any nasty CityCaucus.com FOI requests, Penny Ballem regularly deletes all of her emails right after she sends them. As a result, any FOI requesting information from her outbox will come back empty-handed. If you recall, it was former City Manager Ken Dobell that got caught in a controversy when he admitted he regularly deleted emails to avoid having his information accessed through Freedom of Information.
So does Ballem regularly delete her emails as quickly as they’re sent? We thought we’d put this theory to the test.
On August 26th, Mike Klassen sent an FOI request to the City Clerk asking for any outgoing emails from Penny Ballem to both of her executive assistants for a one week period. The letter we have now received from the City Clerk’s office states they checked the City Manager’s email account and it came up empty. According to them, Ballem didn’t send any emails and there was no information they could provide us. Nada.
Also on August 26th, I sent a separate FOI asking if either one of Ballem’s assistants had received any incoming email from Penny Ballem for the same one week period of time. To our surprise, the response letter sent to us by the Clerk indicates that over 200 pages worth of Ballem’s emails were still in their respective inboxes. How could this be?
In the letter to Klassen, the City Clerk says they had no record of Ballem sending out any emails. In my letter they indicate they want to charge me $50 bucks to photocopy all the emails Ballem sent to her two staff. Could the theory that Ballem routinely deletes all of her emails in order to avoid FOI legislation have some credence? We will continue to dig into this story over the coming weeks.
As for the previous complaint we filed with the Privacy Commissioner regarding Ballem circumventing FOI by using her private email account last December, we can confirm this remains an active investigation. We spoke to the Commissioner’s office last week and they confirm they are continuing to review the circumstances regarding our complaint. We’ll keep you posted as soon as we hear any further details.