SALEM — John Kitzhaber wasn’t the first governor to use private email accounts to handle state business.
Kitzhaber’s use of the private accounts attracted attention earlier this year, when a staffer asked state technology employees to delete thousands of his personal emails that had been copied onto state computer servers. However, it was his predecessor’s use of a Gmail account that led archives officials to ask for a system that would retain material from all of Kitzhaber’s accounts.
Former Gov. Ted Kulongoski used a Gmail account as his primary professional email and unlike in Kitzhaber’s case, state employees do not know whether they have copies of all Kulongoski’s emails.
Archivists at the Oregon Secretary of State’s office discovered Kulongoski’s use of the Gmail account when they received correspondence between his administration staffers’ government email accounts, and Kulongoski’s private account after he left office. Secretary of State spokesman Tony Green said archivists do not know how much of Kulongoski’s professional correspondence might be missing from the state archive.
“The (Kulongoski) account was closed so we don’t know what, if any, emails were lost,” Green wrote in an email.
Under Oregon law, the historical records of the governor, secretary of state and state treasurer belong to the state and must be transferred to the archives.
Kulongoski did not respond to a request for comment.
Green said the Oregon Department of Administrative Services approved Kulongoski’s use of a Gmail account so that he could send and receive emails when he was not in the office, something which was not possible with state email accounts when Kulongoski took office in 2003.
There was no indication Kulongoski used the private email account as a back channel to avoid public access to the correspondence. Anna Richter Taylor, who was a policy adviser and communications director for Kulongoski, said the governor used the Gmail account “primarily for personal use, not state business.” Richter Taylor also said employees in the Kulongoski administration were expected to use their state email accounts and if they had to use private accounts while traveling or in other situations, they were supposed to forward that correspondence to their state accounts so it would be archived.
The Oregonian recently reported that Kitzhaber and his chief of staff used private email accounts to discuss the role the governor’s fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, should have in the administration. As a result, state records did not include a memorandum in which Kitzhaber addressed the overlap between Hayes’ state policy and paid contracting work.
Amy Williams, a spokeswoman for the Department of Administrative Services, said the state acquired the capability in 2010 to copy emails from private email accounts such as Kulongoski’s.
“When I spoke with the IT manager, he had great confidence that all of Gov. Kulongoski’s emails were retained and archived beginning in 2010 when (the Department of Administrative Services’) email archiving system came online,” Williams wrote in an email.
Kulongoski’s use of the private email account, and the state’s problems capturing it, were the impetus behind the decision by state technology employees to copy onto state servers all correspondence from the private email account Kitzhaber used for state business, according to a state technology employee interviewed by Oregon State Police who were investigating the leak of Kitzhaber’s private emails to the Willamette Week newspaper.
In a March 5 interview, state IT employee Tracy Obsurn told state police “after Governor Kulongoski left office, the Secretary of State’s office found out that his emails were not being archived in the state archive accounts,” according to police notes on the interview. “The Secretary of State wanted (the technology support center) to create a way to capture the professional emails from John Kitzhaber’s account into the state archive system.”
Chris Pair, a spokesman for Gov. Kate Brown, said the administration has an official policy that the governor and her staffers are not allowed to use private email accounts to correspond about state business.