A heated debate over email privacy and access to other city officials’ accounts led to the discovery that Wimberley Mayor Susan Jaggers occasionally monitors city staff emails without their knowledge.
On Aug. 1, Jaggers explained she wished to have access to Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Minnick’s city email account, to ensure the two are on the “same step” regarding city business.
Jaggers said she occasionally monitors emails from city staff, per her military background, to see “what kind of quality assurance and responses they are putting out.”
This came as a surprise to other members of the council, leading the council to decree that the mayor does not have the right of access to emails from other council members, city staff or the city administrator. Council approved the motion 4-1 with Council member Gary Barchfeld dissenting.
“First of all, I am the Mayor Pro Tem, not the mayor’s Mayor Pro Tem,” Minnick said. “I am here and I have been appointed by this body, not by the mayor. I don’t agree with the mayor having access to my email and I don’t agree with the mayor having access to any city staff (emails) and the city administrator.”
Multiple members on the dais said that, although information is public, there is a level of privacy that should be respected.
Council member Craig Fore said city council members are given a login and password for a reason, which should be protected for the sake of privacy.
“I’m not going to put anything (on email) I’m ashamed to show anybody,” Fore said. “But to me, it’s a privacy issue and I don’t want anybody looking at anybody’s email without permission.”
Minnick said the proposal is intrusive and it will foster a negative environment for the body. Council members Christine Byrne and Bo Bowman also were adamantly against the proposal, echoing similar concerns.
Barchfeld disagreed and said that it’s in the mayor’s purview to oversee the staff.
Dispute with city attorney shuts down the proposal
Jaggers debated with City Attorney Megan Santee on whether the mayor could legally have access to other email accounts. The mayor argued city emails can be obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, but allowing her access would save time.
Citing Attorney General opinions, Santee said there is an exception to the act which allows the city to provide governmental records to the governmental member without mandatory redactions.
She said confidentiality is not waived if the request is made by a member of the governing body.
“It cannot be sought for any type of personal reason, so we always have that distinction when we’re working with council members making requests for documentation,” Santee said. “Is this for purposes of your role with the governmental entity or is this a request in your personal capacity as a citizen.”
However, legal counsel recommended that a decision should lie in the council’s hands.
Jaggers cited Chapter 22 of governance policy which states the mayor is the chief executive officer of the municipality.
Santee said nothing is stopping the mayor from submitting weekly FOIA requests for emails, but Jaggers said that would make it harder and limit her “supervisory ability.”
“…The provision you’re stating does not set out that you have supervisory ability over staff, it says that the mayor’s duties and responsibilities will be prescribed by the governing body under Chapter 22,” Santee said.
But Jaggers argued, per statute, that she is the CEO of the body.
“And if they give you no powers, then what’s your job,” Jaggers fired back.
Jaggers pushed Santee to bring the item back at the next council meeting, to conduct further research on the powers delegated by the state coexist with city statute.
Santee said the statute does not define chief executive officer.
At the end of the debate, city leaders voted to shut down the mayor’s proposal.