The authorities knew that the mayor’s phone setting had made the texts disappear
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said this spring that 10 months of her missing text messages could be traced to an “unknown technology glitch.”
However, internal emails appear to show officials had known for months already why the texts were missing and when they were missing, the Seattle Times reported.
And city attorney Pete Holmes said the initial explanation from Durkan’s office was misleading.
Durkan’s texts were to be automatically deleted on a phone she started using in July 2020, shortly after the city’s racial justice protests began, according to January emails between the mayor’s office. and the city attorney’s office.
This and other emails – among hundreds of pages of documents that formed the basis of an ethics inquiry that found the mayor’s office violated the state’s public records law – also indicate that the Durkan’s chief of staff was involved in keeping the public in the dark over the missing texts.
The mayor’s office declined to answer questions about the emails, which The Seattle Times received through a public registration request to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.
Durkan spokesman Anthony Derrick instead said “litigation involving the city,” including a lawsuit by The Times for alleged violations of the Public Records Act, is expected to produce thousands of documents and information.
Derrick added: “As usual with such cases, until this thorough and systematic work can be done, it is seldom accurate to make assumptions based on individual records.”
But Holmes told the newspaper his office warned Durkan’s office that publicly attributing the loss to an unspecified technological problem was “wrong.”
“Someone changed the mayor’s settings from keep to delete – it’s a deliberate act,” Holmes said.
By law and state directives, locally elected officials’ texts and other communications relating to public affairs must be kept for at least two years before being transferred to the state archives for further evaluation. Anyone who willfully destroys a public record that is supposed to be kept is guilty of a felony, according to state law. A forensic report on the missing texts is currently overdue.
Seattle could end up paying “tens of millions of dollars in damages” to resolve lawsuits over the Durkan administration’s handling of last year’s protests, and “those damn missing text messages” complicate the legal defense of the city, said Holmes.