Secret email causes FOIA fight in Delaware (video)

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 (Photo courtesy of Markell Administration)

(Photo courtesy of Markell Administration)

A secret, secondary email address used by Delaware Governor Jack Markell has some lawmakers crying foul.

Over the course of more than six years in office, Delaware Governor Jack Markell has maintained two public email addresses: Jack.Markell@state.de.us and Governor.Markell@state.de.us. But it’s a third, secret email that has caused raised eyebrows in Dover in recent weeks.

That email address does not include the Markell’s name or title. Instead, it bears the name of country music legend Alan Jackson: Alan.Jackson@state.de.us. Alan is Markell’s middle name.

“It’s actually a secret email address for a state account,” said State Representative John Kowalko, a Democrat from Newark. “Which is where it becomes either unethical or illegal.”

Kowalko’s Freedom of Information Act request for emails the governor may have exchanged on an education issue last month was part of the impetus for Markell’s office to acknowledge the secret account with the pseudonym.

“FOIA laws have almost been used to obstruct rather than facilitate,” Kowalko said. “That’s what they’re there for, to facilitate.”

Markell’s office issued a written statement to WHYY in response, saying the Alan Jackson email “was set up so that one email account could be used without having to filter out unsolicited messages or spam.”

The statement went on to say that “This is standard practice used by past Delaware governors to manage the dozens or hundreds of email received from the public every day.”

John Flaherty is the president of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government. He’s joined Kowalko in efforts to FOIA more correspondence from Markell’s secret email.

“The whole purpose of the open government law is to allow public officials, the public, the media to monitor the activity of our elected officials,” Flaherty said. “There are specific exemptions in the law for what’s public and what’s not, and there’s nothing in there that allows this to be secret or non-public.”

Markell’s written response to this issue includes clarification that all of his email addresses, including the Alan Jackson address, are subject to FOIA requests, unlike Rep. Kowalko and the rest of the General Assembly, who are exempt under the state’s FOIA law.

Flaherty takes exception to that statement, pointing out that Kowalko supported the effort to open the General Assembly’s email to requests. “John Kowalko has been a huge supporter of open government and transparency, he was not involved in the efforts to keep the secret email accounts of the General Assembly, that was from the leadership,” Flaherty said. “So that’s a cheap shot.”

Markell’s statement did not say whether the governor would be creating any new email aliases.

 

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