Editorials

If it’s city business, Mr. Mayor, use your city phone

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson testified in the arena court trial on Tuesday that he deleted arena-related texts from his personal smartphone.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson testified in the arena court trial on Tuesday that he deleted arena-related texts from his personal smartphone. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson sat in a witness chair this week to defend the city’s arena deal. It wasn’t his intention, but he also provided yet more evidence why public officials should only use their official phones for public business.

He testified Tuesday that while the arena negotiations were going hot and heavy in early 2013, he used his personal smartphone to text back and forth about the deal. He said it was his “organizing” habit to delete texts almost immediately, so by the time he received a letter in June 2013 telling him to preserve any electronic communications related to the deal, the texts were long gone.

More problematic, he admitted that he may have deleted some arena-related texts after getting the letter, saying he thought his staff was taking care of preserving them. Johnson insisted he wasn’t hiding anything. But was there anything in those texts that would help arena foes prove that the city committed fraud with a secret subsidy to prospective owners of the Kings?

We’ll never know.

Johnson’s mixing of public and private electronic communications also has him in another legal pickle. He used a personal account to exchange emails with his private attorney during a dispute with the National Conference of Black Mayors in 2013-14, and many were also copied or forwarded to city email accounts.

If some 100 of those emails had been exchanged with the city attorney, they would be exempt from public disclosure under attorney-client privilege. But because they were with an outside lawyer, Johnson is in the awkward position of having to go to court to prevent their disclosure. The release of the emails – the subject of separate public records requests by The Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento News & Review – was delayed after a court hearing Thursday.

The mayor’s spokesman said Thursday that Johnson is considering doing all city business on a city device. He absolutely should.

In our fast-paced digital world, that decision wouldn’t necessarily prevent all potential problems. But keeping private and public texts and emails as separate as possible sure would simplify matters.

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