Emails show Allegheny County Council staff investigated potential snooping
Allegheny County Council's staff began investigating potential email snooping months before its members asked for a separate computer server to increase security, emails turned over to the Tribune-Review show.
Council's solicitor, Jack Cambest, took the Trib to court to block access to minutes, notes or recordings of executive sessions where council members discussed concerns about whether County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's office looked at emails, calendars and documents. Fitzgerald and his staff said they never snooped on council.
Cambest turned over the emails when Common Pleas Judge W. Terrence O'Brien reviewed documents related to the meetings. Cambest and Trib attorney Ronald D. Barber of Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky agreed on what could be made public.
“It's concerning that County Council required us to go to court in order to get to a reasonable result. The Trib has seen this with other government units where there are documents that should be regularly turned over,” Barber said.
Council is considering bids from two companies to protect internal communications. Members on March 17 issued a request for proposals to develop a computer server separate from the executive and other offices. Each proposal could cost about $30,000.
On Jan. 29, Feb. 12 and March 12, members of the Executive Committee met in closed-door sessions to discuss the snooping, council members said. Those issues should not have been discussed during the executive sessions, Barber said, arguing the meetings violated the state's Sunshine Act, which sets limits on when public bodies can meet in private.
“That's the biggest problem with the Sunshine Act; there's often no way to enforcement without going to court,” said Kim de Bourbon, executive director of the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition, adding there's often no way to learn what is discussed during the meetings.
The emails show concern by council members stretching back to Jan. 27.
“I do hope the Executive Committee will address two issues on the 29th. One, the cooperation of our county police in assuring our offices and staff are not compromised by listening devices or other technology,” Councilman Bill Robinson, D-Hill District, wrote in all capital letters in a Jan. 27 email to council members and staff.
Robinson's second request and the rest of the email were redacted.
When the Jan. 29 executive session ended, Walt Szymanski, director of budget and administration for council, sent an email asking members to send to staff a list of who is receiving email or calendar forwards. That list was not provided.
“It has come to our attention that a review of email forwarding and calendar notification forwarding has not been done recently,” Szymanski wrote.
Cambest did not release a “Memorandum that was shared with Allegheny County Council members, at an executive session concerning the information that was developed between Allegheny County Council staff and the IT Department of Allegheny County,” the solicitor wrote in a letter to Barber.
“Finally, no minutes are made of Allegheny County Council committee meetings or its executive sessions,” Cambest wrote.
Minutes are taken during council committees and approved at the beginning of meetings. Council members told the Trib that staff members took notes during the executive sessions.
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Number of jobs in high-tech industry outpace workers in Pittsburgh, nation
- Mandated sewer project to increase Alcosan customers’ bills
- Allegheny police seek non-custodial dad, missing 4-year-old son
- City of Pittsburgh detective, 2 boys finalize adoption before judge
- Nonprofits replace humdrum charity 5Ks with rappelling
- Western Pa. colleges to emphasize curricula for energy, industrial fields
- Identical twins born at West Penn Hospital a rare medical marvel
- Artist who painted Wilkinsburg house raises funds for ‘gentle demolition’
- Mt. Washington landslide stable — for now
- Internet access still out of reach for some, Census figures show
- Air Conditioning Contractors, Peoples partner on furnace cleanings for low-income residents