The Town of Summerfield isn’t really the Town of Summerfield these days unless there’s a big controversy going on; and now, one of the longest running controversy’s – and one that’s moved back onto the front burner lately – is the controversy around the emails of Summerfield Mayor Gail Dunham. A public records request for all of Dunham’s emails related to the town’s business was filed last year.
The emails in question were sent to and from her private email account and aren’t on the town’s servers.
This week, Dunham explained why it’s taking a good deal of time to collect those emails and turn them over.
“The reason is that I want them to be as thorough and comprehensive as possible,” the mayor said.
She said that the emails involve a number of chains back and forth with people and she wants to make sure she catches everything before turning them over. Dunham said she knows that, if she misses one email by accident, her political opponents will jump all over her and say she was trying to hide something even though it was simply an oversight on her part.
“I am doing it – I’ve been working on it,” Dunham said of getting the emails together.
“A lot of them are part of a chain,” she said, offering one reason why it’s a difficult process.
Dunham added that some of the emails with attachments were hard to print out using her computer and printer because often only part of the document prints.
Emails to and from elected leaders are public records whether or not they pass through an email server operated by the relevant city or town government. In early, 2018, former Summerfield Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck was removed from his seat on the council due to a successful residency challenge and that was really the start of a full-scale political war between two main factions in Summerfield – a war that continues to this day. As part of that battle, public records requests for Durham’s emails were made and, eventually, requests were also made for the emails of other town councilmembers.
Dunham said months ago that she had been waiting for the town manager to release her emails that the town did have – something that happened last year – and she had also, she said, been waiting on other council members, such as the emails of Summerfield Town Councilmember Dena Barnes.
Barnes told the Rhino Timesrecently that she had turned over all of her emails but she added that the mayor’s emails were still nowhere to be found.
“I turned mine in – where are hers?” Barnes said.
She added that its kind of ridiculous that the requests for the mayor’s emails have been out there for months and months, yet Dunham still hasn’t provided them.
“She has all kinds of excuses,” Barnes said, adding that she had heard ever excuse from holidays to vacation to Dunham being too busy to get to it.
Late last year, Dunham said that she was working on going through the emails in order to collect them and turn them over, but she added at that time that she knew it wouldn’t end the matter by a long shot.
“This is not really about getting the emails,” she said in late 2018. “They are not being sincere about getting emails. This is totally to harass me and to call me a crook and call me a criminal.”
Dunham said back then that there might be emails on town business that she might miss, or that she’d accidently deleted in the past, and Summerfield Town Attorney Bill Hill and Summerfield Town Manager Scott Whitaker would use that to claim she was still hiding something.
At the Summerfield Town Council meeting earlier this month, it was again a heated topic of contention as some council members continued to ask Dunham for her emails and she in turn continued to explain why the process was taking significant time.
This week Dunham didn’t wish to give an estimate as to when the emails would be turned over, but she said her work in federal aviation safety has been very time consuming in light of the recent Boeing 737 crashes.