CITY HALL — City officials will no longer be allowed to use private email accounts to conduct official business, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office announced Wednesday.
The new policy was announced as part of a settlement with the Better Government Association, a watchdog group that filed Freedom of Information Act requests and sued the city for access to the emails. The city had also been sued over Emanuel's emails by the Tribune.
As part of the settlement, Emanuel released nearly 3,000 pages of emails from his personal account Wednesday afternoon.
"I'm pleased that we were able to come to a reasonable agreement with the Better Government Association today to ensure that transparency keeps up with technology and the realities of modern communication," Emanuel said in a statement.
All 30,000 city employees are now banned from doing business on their personal accounts, the mayor's office said.
If an email that deals with official business, employees must forward it to their city email account so it can be preserved in the event it is requested by the news media or a resident. Employees who fail to follow the policy could be disciplined, according to the statement.
The mayor’s private email account will be reviewed quarterly, and any emails that deal with city business will be preserved and made available, according to the statement.
"Use of private email accounts that hide the transaction of public business threatens to render meaningless the open records laws that allow citizens to hold their government accountable," Better Government Association CEO Andy Shaw said. "The new city policy requiring public business to be conducted where it's subject to public scrutiny is a sea change in transparency and consequently in good government."
Shaw said he was disappointed that a lawsuit was needed to force the city to comply with the law.
"But that said, this is a major step forward in the fight for transparency at City Hall," Shaw said in a statement.
The association pointed out that when Emanuel took office in 2011 he said his administration would be among the most transparent in the nation.
"But accessing public records at City Hall—especially documents about hot topics of those pertaining directly to the mayor himself—has often been met with delays, obfuscation or court battles," the association said.
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