5 years ago

Bentley only uses a private email account; here’s why that’s a big deal, and why it’s not

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, right, and Attorney General Luther Strange listen to Alabama Ethics Commission Director Judge John Carroll during an ethics training session at the Capitol Auditorium in Montgomery, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, right, and Attorney General Luther Strange listen to Alabama Ethics Commission Director Judge John Carroll during an ethics training session at the Capitol Auditorium in Montgomery, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. (Photo: Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

Alabama sports website and liberal political blog AL.com on Tuesday declared, “Gov. Robert Bentley has a Hillary Clinton problem.”

The provocative headline fueled a round of talk radio discussion surrounding revelations that Gov. Bentley has never maintained a state government email account, opting instead to correspond using a personal email account.

The article was penned by opinion columnist John Archibald. Mr. Archibald mentioned in the article that he made “an official records request for the governor’s emails,” but only received a reply from the governor’s IT administrator saying, “Governor Bentley does not have, nor has he ever had an email account with the State of Alabama.”

What Archibald did not mention in his column, however, is that he was also sent the records he requested: Text message and email correspondence for the year 2015 between Governor Bentley and his senior political advisor Rebekah Mason. This is a notable omission, one, because it exposes the author’s unstated motivation for making the initial open records request; and two, because it reveals his willingness to leave out pertinent details to advance a narrative.

On the first point, AL.com recently published a series of thinly sourced articles citing a Facebook post speculating that Governor Bentley had carried on an illicit affair with Mrs. Mason. The organization received intense criticism among journalists who questioned the ethics of using what the Montgomery Advertiser described as “some people are questioning” sourcing when they really want to report something but are missing verifiable proof. The blowback has presumably compelled Mr. Archibald and other AL.com writers to continue digging for vindication.

On the second point, once Mr. Archibald did not get what he was hoping for out of the open records request, he ignored his own findings while continuing to advance the narrative that the Bentley Administration is withholding information.

Yellowhammer News made the same request for records as Mr. Archibald and found that Gov. Bentley and Mrs. Mason have only corresponded via text and email this year on a handful of occasions.

The emails from Mrs. Mason to Gov. Bentley each included a link to a story with no additional comments.

The stories were as follows:
Bentley won’t retreat on taxes as budget stalemate continues | Dothan Eagle
Talladega Mayor Larry Barton describes beating; questions raised about sex tape | Al.com
Governor John Kasich speaks at the Iowa State Fair | C-Span

The text message correspondence between Gov. Bentley and Mrs. Mason was not much different.

Mrs. Mason sent the governor a link to one WAAYTV article titled “Alabama Governor Robert Bentley sits down for interview.”

The most interesting insight was from the morning of July 19th of this year when Gov. Bentley sent the following text to Mrs. Mason:

Need a briefing by perry smith 9am on Tuesday. About arming gaurd. I want a plant to arm!! Need you spencer perry and his people. Jennifer by phone for press. Or yas Rebekah for political. Others ? But probably enough.

The Governor followed up moments later with another text that said, “Sent to Seth,” presumably explaining that he had sent the previous text message to his chief of staff, Seth Hammett.

That same afternoon the story broke on Yellowhammer that Bentley had decided to arm the Alabama National Guard in the wake of shootings in Chattanooga, Tennessee in which five service members were killed by a radical Islamist at two separate military facilities.

This is not to say that Gov. Bentley and Mrs. Mason do not interact frequently — even constantly, on some days — only that their interaction is done in person or over the phone, rather than by text and email.

With all of that having been said, let’s dig into an important question that is worth considering, in spite of Mr. Archibald’s dishonest tactics: Is it a big deal that Governor Bentley does not maintain a state government email address, opting instead to correspond using a personal email account?

WHY IT’S A BIG DEAL

Transparency is important.

Trust in government is near an all-time low. Many Alabamians already question Gov. Bentley’s honesty after he drastically changed positions on tax increases after winning re-election. In that context, it is a particularly bad idea to fuel the perception of opaqueness by not maintaining a government email address.

Gov. Bentley is not the first governor to exclusively use a private email account. In fact, two former staffers to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley told Yellowhammer Tuesday that they do not recall Riley utilizing a state email account, either.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush earlier this year released hundreds of thousands of emails from his time as the Sunshine State’s chief executive. Many of them were sent via a personal email account housed on a private server. This resulted in Bush being praised by some transparency advocates, and criticized by others who insisted that all correspondence should have been subject to archival by the government’s process, rather than by the elected official’s.

All politicians know the importance of perception. Why create the perception — if not the reality — of surreptitiousness for no good reason? Just use the government’s email system.

The administration has a legal obligation to archive its official correspondence.

In addition to the public relations issues, Gov. Bentley’s decision to forego a state government email account could pose a challenge for the administration’s legal obligation to archive its official correspondence.

The administration downplays those concerns, saying that any of the Governor’s official correspondence with state government officials has been captured by the other individual’s state government email, in spite of the Governor not using one himself.

“If email from a state account on state business is sent to the Governor’s personal account, that email communication is to be preserved by the employee sending the email communication in accordance with the Governor’s Office Records Retention Policy,” said Bentley’s communications director Jennifer Ardis.

When asked if the administration could say with complete confidence that there had never been an instance in which the Governor used his personal email account for official business and it was not captured and archived, Ms. Ardis said they could.

“The Governor’s Office takes its archival responsibility seriously—both from a legacy perspective and a legal perspective,” she said. “As files are closed and matters concluded, these are archived on a rolling basis in accordance with the Governor’s Office Records Retention and Archiving Policy.”

WHY IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL

There is not much to archive.

The governor is just plain old school when it comes to communication, conducting most of his business face-to-face or over the phone.

Numerous individuals who regularly interact with the Governor — some inside the Administration, some not — all told Yellowhammer the overwhelming majority of their interaction with Gov. Bentley is done in one of those two ways. Some of them said they had never received a single email during their years working with the Governor.

This has been my personal experience as well. The Governor has typically responded to my emails with a phone call or by having one of his staffers reply to set up a meeting or address my request or concern.

Gov. Bentley is not alone in his sparse use of email.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) raised eyebrows earlier this year for admitting he has never sent an email. Yellowhammer also asked Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) about his email habits.

“I have an iPhone and it belongs to the Senate and it’s all I use,” he said. “I have [sent emails]. Not a lot. The best thing is person-to-person like I’m talking to you. To my staff, talk to them on the phone but also notes. Hand notes. I write a lot. I’ve been here a while; I’m a little older than y’all.”

While it is unimaginable for those of us whose work and personal lives revolve around Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail that someone could go their entire day—much less their entire life—without sending a single email, electronic communication is simply not as important to every day life for previous generations.

This does not excuse Gov. Bentley’s decision to forego a state government email account in favor of a personal one, but the point is, it seems a little over-the-top to make a huge deal out of emails when the guy barely sends any of them.

He’s not dealing with matters of national security.

“Gov. Robert Bentley has a Hillary Clinton problem,” the clickbait headline of AL.com’s article on Gov. Bentley’s email practices, is absurd on its face.

The differences between these two individuals and their email issues are so obvious that I hesitate to insult your intelligence by explaining them, but just consider this.

Hillary Clinton’s private email server held classified information like spy satellite images tracking the movement of North Korea’s nuclear assets. That type of intel is typically handled within a special compartment called Talent-Keyhole. In layman’s terms, this is some of the most sensitive information in all of the intelligence community, sometimes even referred to as “above Top Secret.” This is the kind of sensitive intelligence that Russia, China and North Korea deploy armies of hackers to steal.

To compare the sensitive nature of the emails of a governor who’s worrying about state parks and driver’s license offices, to those of the U.S. Secretary of State, who is tackling geopolitical crises and diplomatic negotiations, is beyond ridiculous.

However, there are times when governors do have to deal with issues related to homeland security. For instance, portions of certain natural disaster response or preparedness plans could be classified because they contain information related to the power grid or other critical infrastructure. Yellowhammer asked the Governor’s office if he had ever discussed such issues via email.

“Classified and privileged information is shared and discussed with the Governor face-to-face only,” the Governor’s spokesperson said in response.


13 hours ago

South Alabama, UAB to face off in nationally televised Thursday night game

The University of South Alabama Jaguars will host the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Blazers on Thursday night at 6:30 in each team’s third game of the 2020 college football season.

This will be the second-ever game at the Jaguars’ new Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile.

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Both teams go into the contest 1-1.

You can watch the game on television via ESPN or online via the network’s website.

The matchup will be broadcast locally on the USA Football Radio Network: flagship 96.1 FM/99.5 FM “The Jag” in Mobile. Live audio will also be available online from anywhere here.

UAB won the first and only previous meeting in history between the Yellowhammer State programs: a 35-3 triumph last year in Birmingham.

South Alabama is still seeking their first-ever win at Hancock Whitney Stadium after losing a tight contest to Tulane last time out.

On Saturday, college football fans in the state will also get to see SEC play return, including the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Palmer introduces bill allowing flexibility for how states spend leftover CARES Act money

Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) on Wednesday introduced the Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility Act (H.R. 8360).

This legislation would allow states to determine how to spend remaining respective relief funds that were issued by the federal government under the CARES Act.

States and localities were provided $150 billion total through the relief fund for mitigation and response to COVID-19, and it is now estimated that approximately $80 billion remains unspent still. Right now, if those funds are unspent at the end of the calendar year, they revert to the federal government.

Palmer’s H.R. 8360 would allow state legislatures to determine how to utilize these remaining funds, with measures to encourage infrastructure development and future coronavirus preparedness.

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“The initial legislation was perhaps too restrictive,” Palmer said in a statement.

“What we hope to do with this legislation is not only create some flexibility to prevent waste but to incentivize states to use the funds towards much needed infrastructure,” he explained. “The one-size-fits-all nature of the underlying measure fails to consider how each state is responding to the pandemic differently, so this legislation would put the spending decisions in the hands of those on the ground in the states who have a better understanding of their specific needs. If we pass this bill, we will give states a much needed boost for infrastructure and an extended period to determine how to address continued COVID-19 related expenses, instead of rushing to spend the funds with a looming deadline.”

According to the Central Alabama congressman’s office, the legislation would specifically prohibit funds from being spent on government employee bonuses, lobbying expenses or budget shortfalls predating the pandemic. H.R. 8360 would further provide a 50% match for funds spent on infrastructure projects begun in the next year and require states to hold 25% of their remaining relief funds in trust for future COVID-19 expenses.

Palmer has 14 co-sponsors listed on the legislation as of Thursday at 4:45 p.m. CT. All co-sponsors are Republicans.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

House of A.D. King added to African American Civil Rights Network by Sec. of Interior David Bernhardt

BIRMINGHAM — On May 11, 1963, the house in Birmingham where Reverend Alfred Daniel Williams “A.D.” King lay asleep with his family was bombed by someone angry at King’s leadership in the civil rights movement.

Fifty-seven years later, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt traveled to that same house so he could personally oversee its addition to the African American Civil Rights Network.

Though not as famous as his elder brother, Martin Luther King, Jr., the younger King was a prominent civil rights leader in his own right. He led the Birmingham Campaign while serving as reverend of the First Street Baptist church in the Ensley neighborhood of the Magic City.

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According to the King Institute at Stanford, angry protesters filled the streets that May evening after learning of the failed assassination attempt at the faith leader’s home.

A.D. King went out to join the protesters, who were on the verge of descending into riots.

“My friends, we have had enough problems tonight. If you’re going to kill someone, then kill me. … Stand up for your rights, but with nonviolence,” he told the crowd, which reportedly dissipated soon after.

King tragically drowned at age 38 in 1969 but his widow, Naomi Ruth Barber King, and daughter, Dr. Alveda King, were both on hand Thursday for the addition of the A.D. King House to the African American Civil Rights Network; both women were in the house when it was bombed.

The A.D. King Home in the Ensley neighborhood of Birmingham (Henry Thornton/YHN)

The African American Civil Rights Network was created by a unanimously passed act of Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in January 2018. It catalogs and publicizes locations significant to the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

“I am humbled to be here,” began Secretary Bernhardt when he began his remarks Thursday morning.

The A.D. King home was purchased in 2005 by Omie Crockett, Sr., a contemporary of King’s and civil rights foot soldier who is now 98 years old. Crockett paid to restore the home and was praised by Bernhardt and members of the King family on Thursday. His daughter, Jacqueline Crockett Washington, represented him at the ceremony on Thursday.

“This is a home where many civil rights movement meetings were held,” advised Washington, adding, “Words cannot express our sincere gratitude. To us, this represents all that Rev. A.D. King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights greats fought for.”

“This home could have been torn down, those stories could disappear,” Bernhardt said of the value added by recognizing sites such as the A.D. King House. ”

“Those stories in my opinion are what bring us together as a community and as a country. Today’s actions ensure that the events that occurred here on May 11 1963 will never be forgotten, ever,” Bernhardt continued about the importance of the African American Civil Rights Network and its inclusion of the King house.

Aurelia Skipwith, the director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, was on hand for the ceremony Thursday morning and noted that the A.D. King House is the 32nd site on the African American Civil Rights Network. Skipwith had a role in implementing the Network before being nominated to head the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“This event is also particularly meaningful to me, because my parents are from Columbus, Mississippi… without the contributions of A.D. King and countless others fighting for freedom and equality I would not be standing here today,” said Skipwith.

“I am proud to be the Service’s 22nd director and the first African American to hold that position in our organization’s 150-year history,” she informed those attending.

During the ceremony, Bernhardt sat to sign the official proclamation adding the A.D. King House to the Civil Rights Network and was embraced by Naomi King.

(Henry Thornton/YHN)

Yellowhammer News asked Bernhardt what he had learned in the commissioning of the 32 sites so far in the Civil Rights Network.

“Understanding how courageous not only are the people we know, but their entire families were involved. Tremendous courage, tremendous leadership,” he replied.

At the conclusion of the event, Yellowhammer asked Naomi King, A.D.’s widow, what it was like to have the Secretary of the Interior travel to Alabama to memorialize the house she once lived in.

“It means the world to me,” she responded, “When I say that it means the world to me, in my heart of hearts, people are people, and love has no color. To have this brother [Bernhardt] sit here today to help celebrate this, it means so much to me.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

14 hours ago

Molly Cagle is a 2020 Woman of Impact

Building Alabama’s soaring 21st century economy that featured record low unemployment before the COVID-19 pandemic took many unsung heroes working day-in, day-out behind the scenes across public and private sectors.

Similarly, our state is going to need this same type of collaborative servant leadership to enable a successful post-pandemic recovery, securing a prosperous present while paving the way for an even brighter future.

Fortunately for Alabamians, there are pro-jobs champions like Molly Cagle hard at work doing just that.

Cagle, vice president of governmental affairs for the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), has proven a perfect fit in executing the organization’s mission of “making a sweet home for business.”

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In her first weeks on the job in 2019, Cagle was one of the key governmental affairs professionals that helped the historic Rebuild Alabama infrastructure package sail smoothly through the legislature into becoming law.

While that assignment might have seemed like a baptism by fire to outside observers, Cagle’s prior experiences had her well prepared for the job at-hand.

Indeed, fostering a pro-growth environment in which hardworking Alabamians can find high-paying, quality jobs has been Cagle’s mantra throughout her career thus far. Before joining BCA, Cagle served as the director of external affairs for Manufacture Alabama, representing many of the state’s largest employers. Prior to that, she worked on many of the same issues — and more — in the public sector as the Senate liaison for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston).

A graduate of Troy University, Cagle in a recent interview with Yellowhammer News advised that part of what initially drew her to the world of governmental affairs was actually the relative lack of females in the field.

“I have always been interested in politics and government, but always saw the lack of women advocates and leaders in this space,” she said. “I just think women bring such a huge role to the table and have such valuable opinions and insight.”

Cagle outlined how she first pursued her passion by doing the leg work, such as going door-to-door for campaigns. This is why she advises others, “Start where you can. You’re not too good for or above anything.”

She still continues to practice what she preaches to this day.

“Just do whatever it takes to get the job done,” Cagle summarized of her mentality. “Work hard, keep your head down and be persistent.”

That mindset has paid off already for her, and Cagle is also executive director of ProgressPAC, BCA’s vaunted political arm.

However, getting here has not been an easy journey. There have been challenges along the way, including hurdles unique to being a female in a male-dominated arena, like a smaller peer network and less networking chances.

Cagle, though, views these obstacles as opportunities, not detriments.

“It forces me to be better,” she remarked. “It forces me to be the best I can and be more professional, more prepared and have a better command of the issues.”

This outlook of treating challenges as opportunities — and being grateful for them — is indicative of how Cagle lives her life. She explained where her motivation comes from.

“The most rewarding part of my career or my job is seeing others succeed around me,” Cagle said.

This is emblematic of her passion for mentoring and lifting up others, including peers and younger women.

Stressing the importance of “looking behind me and bringing women up,” Cagle commented, “That’s part of who I am, because the reason I am who I am is because of women.”

“A strong influence for me was my mom,” she shared. “She passed away when I was 28 but she taught me that every day is a chance to make someone else’s day better. You never know what fight someone else is fighting. Use this life and the gifts you are given to make the world around you better. Be generous with your time, help those in need and always be grateful for what you have.”

“A lot of times the difference in a good day and bad day is your perspective on it,” Cagle concluded.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Molly Cagle a 2020 Woman of Impact.

WATCH:

Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently announced the third annual Women of Impact Awards. Honorees are being featured on Yellowhammer News each weekday through October 1. We will tell their stories one-by-one, utilizing written and video formats. Check back daily for more of Alabama’s best and brightest.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Doug Jones on SCOTUS vacancy: ‘I don’t think my vote’s going to count’

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) seems intent on keeping his pledge from last year to oppose any hypothetical Supreme Court nomination made by President Donald Trump for the rest of this term.

While Democratic leadership quietly admitted they always knew Jones would back them in voting against Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation last time-around, Alabama’s junior senator at least acted like he was being considerate throughout the process at times.

This includes Jones’ assertion that he tried to meet with Kavanaugh during the confirmation period, a meeting which — for whatever reason — ultimately did not occur before Jones’ “no” vote.

However, with Trump set to put forward a new SCOTUS nomination on Saturday, Jones apparently does not even view himself as a swing vote anymore.

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RELATED: Tuberville: ‘Doug Jones will vote the way that Chuck Schumer and the liberal Democrats instruct him’

Politico reported that U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who voted in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, is indeed viewed as a gettable vote for Republicans again this go-around.

“I’d love to meet with a nominee. I have no problem,” said Manchin.

Yet, Jones does not see the point for himself to even meet with the nominee.

“I don’t think my vote’s going to count, so I doubt they’ll even want to,” Jones told Politico. “But we’ll see.”

The White House, for its part, is encouraging Democrats to meet with the nominee and act in good-faith.

“The president has not even put forward a nominee yet,” stated Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson, per Politico. “This is pure politics from Senate Democrats and shows they do not take their constitutional duty to advise and consent seriously.”

RELATED: Doug Jones fundraises off of late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn