Last Modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 7:16 PM
Disappointed, but not surprised, best sums up our reaction to reports that members of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration used their personal email accounts to shield public business from Louisiana residents.
Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein, Greenstein’s chief of staff and health policy adviser, and Jindal’s communications staff were all involved.
The emails covered such subjects as press releases, responses to news coverage of DHH budget cuts, complaints about news coverage and input on an opinion column Greenstein was writing to be distributed to newspapers in the state.
In one email, a health policy adviser for Greenstein, Calder Lynch, directs members of Jindal’s communications staff to send certain types of items to Lynch’s personal email account.
In another instance, Jindal’s communications director Kyle Plotkin and Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates sent multiple group emails to Greenstein, Nichols and DHH employees via their personal email accounts.
A member of Jindal’s administration provided the emails to the Associated Press on condition that he remain anonymous.
Through a public records request, the AP asked for documents and emails from DHH regarding discussions regarding the health care cuts. The Jindal administration complied by releasing 3,800 documents and emails, but not the emails that were sent via personal accounts.
That likely is a violation of the state’s public records law that states that all documents used in the conduct, transaction or performance of public business are considered public except when there is a specific exemption.
DHH spokeswoman Kristen Sunde and Nichols said DHH personnel may use their personal accounts if they are working remotely, have limited access from a mobile device or are having trouble with the state’s email server.
That, though, ignores the directive to use personal email accounts.
Kenneth Bunning, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said just because information is sent via personal email accounts does not prevent it from being the public’s business.
In cases like this, there’s normally a witch hunt to try to ferret out who leaked the damaging information, confusing the who for the more critical examination of the what and why.
This latest episode is one more damaging example of the governor’s hypocrisy. Jindal promised when he ran for the governor’s office in 2007 to improve government transparency. But he successfully pushed legislation to keep deliberations cloaked and has fought attempts to make his office’s records open to public scrutiny.
The governor can put a stop to this current betrayal of public trust by issuing an executive order banning it.
Don’t hold your breath, though. Bobby Jindal has established a pattern of the end justifying the means, even if it means trampling on the public’s right to know.
• • •
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.