Man, it is top-secret Councilmember email address season in the City of Angels! We are in the midst of a veritable top-secret-email-address-a-palooza round here! First there were a bunch of politicians from somewhere east of San Bernardino, don’t exactly recall their names.1 And then there was Mitch O’Freaking Farrell, revealed by this very blog in a hard-hitting piece of hard-newsical investigative reportitude to be corresponding with all and sundry members of the 0.1% out of the public view using a Gmail account at firstname.lastname@example.org
And now, this very day, it’s my pleasure to reveal unto you that Gil Cedillo of CD1 is the second Councilmember that we know of using a secret Gmail address to conduct City business. This was discovered by accident, lurking in this email chain between famous Los Angeles artist Frank Romero, who CD1 has evidently hired to paint a mural in Highland Park, probably as an attempt to resolve their unbearable shame and guilt.3
The content of the emails is interesting. It seems that as part of the mural project Frank Romero rented a studio from Lincoln Heights supervillain Eric Ortiz, big-time Lincoln Heights storage honcho and, probably not coincidentally, vice president of the Lincoln Heights Industrial Zone BID. Then Eric Ortiz cheated Frank Romero somehow, which is only to be expected cause how does anyone think zillionaires get to be zillionaires, anyway?4 And then Frank Romero, who signs his emails “yours in the struggle,” asked Gil Cedillo to intercede.
We don’t know the end of the story, and we may never know the end of the story, but for our purposes, the real story is that Frank Romero sent his emails to Gil at email@example.com, which is the newly discovered secret email address! And then Gil Cedillo forwarded Frank Romero’s emails to his chief of staff at firstname.lastname@example.org for her to deal with, which proves that it’s City business being conducted. As you’re no doubt aware, in California it’s the content and purpose of emails that makes them public records rather than who owns the account. Thus these emails are public records.
And interestingly, Gil Cedillo’s staff redacted some instances of this newly-found secret email address but, fortunately, not all of them. This is discussed, with pictures, after the break. Also, our good friends at the Hollywood Sunshine Coalition, who are pushing hard on CD13 for copies of Mitch O’Farrell’s secret emails, have made a request to CD1 for these other secret emails. There is also a transcription of that after the break.
As you may already know, the California Public Records Act at §6253(a) states:
Any reasonably segregable portion of a record shall be available for inspection by any person requesting the record after deletion of the portions that are exempted by law.
What this turns out to mean is that first, they can’t withhold a record just because some parts of it are exempt from release — they have to redact the exempt parts. Second it means that the only reason for redacting information is if the law itself says that the information is exempt from release. You can see in an image somewhere near this sentence that CD1 redacted two instances of Gil Cedillo’s secret email address. They did not cite an exemption to justify this, and it’s doubtful that there is an exemption that properly supports this redaction.
The usual jive that the City propounds to justify its redaction of various non-City email addresses is a nebulous appeal to a putative right to privacy. This appears nowhere in the CPRA, and the details of why the City’s position on this is totally wrong are far too tedious to recount. However, in the case of Gil Cedillo’s secret email address, it turns out that the CPRA explicitly forestalls any exemption claims. This happens in the very interesting, very recent language found at §6254.3(b), which states:
Unless used by the employee to conduct public business, or necessary to identify a person in an otherwise discloseable communication, the personal email addresses of all employees of a public agency shall not be deemed to be public records and shall not be open to public inspection…
Thus regardless of whether there’s some privacy protection in the CPRA for personal email addresses of third parties, and I doubt that there is, as soon as a public official uses a personal email address to conduct public interest, the email address is disclosable, not exempt. There’s no reason to cross it out. Note by the way that they did not cross out Frank Romero’s email address even though there’s as much and arguably more support for that redaction.
And, luckily for the world, cross out Cedillo’s secret account is precisely what they did not do later down the chain. See the other image right near here for proof. And that, friends, is how we got to this place! Stay tuned, as I’m sure our friends that the HSC will keep us up to date on their activities!
Transcription of the HSC CPRA request:
From: Hollywood Sunshine <email@example.com>
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, Debby.Kim@lacity.org, Tony.Ricasa@lacity.org,
Date: Dec 6 at 7:49 AM
Good morning Councilmember Cedillo,
On behalf of the Hollywood Sunshine Coalition I am making this request under the public records act for copies of all emails to and from your account at email@example.com from July 1, 2013 onward to the present day. It’s clear from our work that you use this account to conduct public business. As I am sure you are aware the California Supreme Court found last year in City of San Jose that the private email accounts of public officials such as yourself used to conduct public business are subject to disclosure under the law.
Since this is a gmail account it will be very easy for you to export these emails in mbox format using Google Takeout, and it is this form that we will need to have these emails.
Furthermore, because this is a privately held account held on a privately owned server and there is therefore no enforceable duty to preserve these records, in order to be sure that we obtain all emails to or from this account that have to do with City of Los Angeles business, we are also requesting that you search every CD1 staff member email account for emails corresponding with this address and produce those in response to this request as well.
Also note that we are aware that the City of Los Angeles will from time to time claim exemptions under section 6255(a) of the California Public Records Act for requests that involve very many emails, as this one surely does. That particular exemption claim requires a balancing test where the public interest in releasing the records is found to be *clearly* outweighed by the public interest in withholding them. The only conceivable claim that there’s any public interest whatsover in withholding these emails is going to rely on the theory that it’ll be too much work to collect and prepare these emails for release and that doing so will interfere with the operations of your office and so forth.
However, we think it’s clear that no such claim can possibly withstand scrutiny. The public interest in knowing who you communicate with via this email address, what you communicate about, if and how this address is used to evade open records laws, and so on, is insurmountably high. This is a matter of the utmost public interest. Over the last few years in this country the national news has obsessively focused on private email accounts used by public officials. The situation in Los Angeles is no different. Please take these considerations into account before making any kind of “too much work” exemption claim based on section 6255(a).
Please note that we are simultaneously filing this request on the Next Request platform.
Thank you for your anticipated compliance with this fundamental right granted to we the people by the Constitution of the great state of California.
Image of Gil Cedillo is ©2018 MichaelKohlhaas.Org. Wanna see what it looked like before it hit our artistic meat grinder?
- There was this one and then that one.
- Drop him a line out there. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear from you!
- Frank Romero, formerly of Chicano supercolectivo artístico Los Four, is a legitimately legendary Los Angeles artist. What he’s doing hanging around with the creepers over at CD1 is a whole nother story, probably fated to remain untold.
- Mostly by inheritance, I expect, but being a lying, cheating, cheapskate fraudster can’t hurt either.