On March 2, 2017 the California Supreme Court released their opinion in the case of City of San Jose v. Superior Court (Smith). For me, this was a huge decision. The Court found that when a public official uses a private email account to conduct the public's business then those emails are subject to the California Public Records Act (CPRA). I went into high gear and started submitting public records requests to a number of public officials in the state and made a point to submit requests to officials who had previously declined my request in the past by claiming their social media accounts were personal.
Over the two years that I have been doing this I have reviewed countless social media accounts of public officials. From my own analysis very few public officials maintain social media accounts in a manner that would qualify as a truly "personal" account. Most public officials use social media as a way to engage with their constituents and this is exactly what I try to point out on my Government Block Lists Revealed blog.
Last month I requested the Twitter block and mute list of Aja Brown, who is the Mayor of Compton. Her office responded that there were no records responsive to my request. I am blocked by her Twitter account, so the response to my request is false. However, in 2016 she responded to the same request by stating that her Twitter account was personal. I think she would have a hard time defending that argument in court when she posts things like:
If you're not following my city Compton on Twitter @ComptonCityHall then you're not in the loop with what's happening in Compton!— Aja Brown (@AjaLBrown) December 12, 2015
#Compton residents, business owners & stakeholders, join me for a virtual town hall Mon., 5/22 at 6 p.m. #ComptonTownHall #VisionForCompton pic.twitter.com/C9TXm2jhde— Aja Brown (@AjaLBrown) May 18, 2017
In this example she posts a public statement using the City of Compton's official logo:
Saddened this morning by the news of the discovery of the bodies of three young men. #Compton #LASD pic.twitter.com/Bzy7YXmzjR— Aja Brown (@AjaLBrown) November 23, 2016
If you view her @AjaLBrown Twitter account you'll notice that not only does she use it to communicate about the public's business, but also to campaign with:
No, her Twitter account is hardly personal, it is an absolute mess. The Compton mayor looks like a great candidate for someone to come along and file a petition for a writ of mandate to make her comply with the CPRA. I filed on last month against the City of San Mateo. Today the matter has been settled. The City of San Mateo agreed to my requests regarding their own social media use and the San Mateo mayor has unblocked and unmuted accounts he had previously been blocking and muting on Twitter. The San Mateo mayor also agreed to release a full listing of the accounts he had been blocking and muting. You can submit your own public records request to the San Mateo mayor if you care to see who was on the list.
Not all mayors want to share the list of people they block or mute. I had to file a writ just to see the San Mateo mayor's list. Even Compton Mayor Aja Brown has shown she's not eager to share this information, however, when she utilizes her Twitter account to discuss the public's business then people have a right to know who is being blocked or muted by her.
That CA Supreme Court ruling I previously mentioned helped lay the groundwork on this issue. You have the right to know what kind of information public officials are conducting from a privately maintained account.
Remember the Podesta email WikiLeaks? Well, one email shed some light on an interesting detail. Mayor Brown has an email account that you'll find on the Compton City webpage (ContactMayor@comptoncity.org), but WikiLeaks also showed that she has two others that she may be using to conduct the public's business (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com). So, if you feel like submitting a public records request to Mayor Brown, feel free to inquire about all the email accounts she uses.
And if you request to see who she blocks, mutes, or bans from her social media accounts and your request is denied, then fee free to petition the court for a writ of mandate. I did it and it worked for me...and I just might do it again!