Aide’s Smoking Gun E-mail

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Smoking Gun E-mail Shows Council Aide Advocated Evasion of Public Information Act

Provided Detailed Guide to Allow Chats with Council Members on Dais But Leave No Trace

The Austin Bulldog has received copies of e-mails sent by Glen Coleman, policy aide to Council Member Randi Shade, that tells all the other council members’ executive assistants specifically how to disable the chat system’s ability to track the history of communications and sidestep the requirements of the Texas Public Information Act.

“In the heat of a council meeting, you may wish to communicate sensitive information that would not be appropriate for all of us to read in the (Austin American-) Statesman the next day,” Coleman stated in an e-mail at 9:22am July 8, 2009, addressed to all council executive assistants.

“For these situations, we use a chatting application called ‘Spark.’

“To set up Spark on your and your Council Member’s computers, please contact…. Once installed, be sure to disable the ‘chat history’ function.”

Coleman’s e-mail then informs the other aides how to disable Spark chat history—and delete all previous chat conversations—complete with screen shots and a step-by-step instructions.

Robert “Bobby” Levinski, policy aide to Council Member Laura Morrison, challenged Coleman’s suggested methodology in two separate replies. At 10:10am on July 8, 2009, Levinski wrote, “I disagree with this characterization of Spark, and it makes me even more inclined not to use it. I think we need to be very careful here. I would never use Spark to allow a ‘constituent’ to relay information to Laura to keep it from public record.”

Morrison weighed in at 11:36am the same day while enjoying the view of the Pacific Ocean north of the redwoods. In an e-mail addressed to her staff, she wrote: “Glen’s e-mail is extremely troubling. I think it would be helpful for everyone to respond to the whole group to make sure the new aides understand the other perspective.”

At 12:41 that day, Levinski then wrote to Coleman and other executive assistants to say, “I thought I’d let everyone know a decision our office made several months ago. Our office chose to opt out of using Spark to communicate with Laura on the dais. On the one hand, it is nice to be able to communicate with your boss instantly like if she needs some quick information or even some water. On the other hand, we were uncomfortable with using a program that may not comply with the intent of the public information act.

“Nowadays, we just use e-mail or talk to her directly,” Levinski wrote.

Voice mail messages left for council aides Coleman and Levinski on their City Hall telephone lines late Tuesday afternoon were not immediately returned.

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