Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham announced at a Summerfield Town Council meeting on Tuesday, April 9 that, that afternoon, she had released all the emails in her personal email account related to the town’s business.
Emails to and from town council members related to town business are public records in the state of North Carolina and, for months and months, some Summerfield citizens have been waiting for the mayor to release all of her emails in response to public records requests.
“This afternoon I released 800 pages of all my town emails to fully comply with public record requests,” Dunham wrote in an April 9 statement released along with those emails. “I want them all to be public as soon as possible.”
The Town of Summerfield has been in a divisive political battle for about a year and a half over issues related to the pace of development in the town and the 2018 removal of former Summerfield Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck. As part of that battle, all emails from every town council member have been requested. Other council members have turned over their emails, but Dunham has not. Dunham had said it was taking her significant time to go through all of her back emails and she had also said that she wanted to make absolutely sure that she found all of them before releasing them so that she wasn’t accused of withholding email.
She also stated that she needed help from an index that the town provided her on December 20 of last year.
“Since then I have been very busy and I have been working hard to get them all released,” Dunham wrote.
Now Dunham is saying that other town officials have emails that they haven’t released.
“I urge [Summerfield Town Manager] Scott Whitaker and John O’Day to comply with their public record requests that [have] been open for over SEVEN Months,” she wrote in her April 9 statement. “They have all their town emails so it should have been easy to comply.”
Dunham also pointed out that other town officials had, as she had, used personal email accounts for some town business.
“We certainly have heard concerns about using personal emails for town business,” she wrote. “[Town Councilmembers] Dena Barnes and John O’Day, unknown to others, had all their town business emails forwarded to their personal email for quite a while, so they need to be public record.”
Dunham stated that those and any other personal emails that were related to town business should be disclosed as soon as possible and she asked why they hadn’t been disclosed earlier.
“It appears emails not sent to [the] town attorney are being forwarded to [Summerfield Town Attorney] Bill Hill, even if [there is] no legal reason,” Dunham wrote. “This is expensive.”
The mayor also offered a number of suggestions, including that, going forward, all town emails be released on a periodic basis.
In addition, Dunham argued that Hill should also release his monthly statements and release his email so that a third party could evaluate whether there’s any legal advice in his emails that should be private.
The Town of Summerfield has received town-related emails to/from Mayor Dunham’s personal accounts and the expectation was that those could simply be released to the many requestors; however, she did not simply print emails in her custody. The mayor added a considerable amount of comments (editorial) throughout the emails and the varying email formats/appearances are initially suggestive that all emails might not appear as they were originally communicated. Unfortunately this has created a need for additional review before release, which is regrettable given the time it has it has taken to get to this stage. (Town Manager Scott Whitaker)