Whitmer bans use of private email for state business

FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2018, file photo, Michigan Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer hosts a post-election news conference in Detroit. Whitmer said Thursday, Dec. 13, she emphasized the importance of upgrading road and water infrastructure and keeping invasive carp out of the Great Lakes in a meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — New Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a directive Thursday to prohibit state employees from using personal email to conduct government business, stopping a practice that occasionally was seen in the offices of the previous governor and attorney general.

The Democrat’s directive is among six she issued two days after taking office — part of what she said is an effort to make state government “open, transparent and accountable” to taxpayers.

“To continue to earn public confidence, we must set good examples and act ethically at all times,” Whitmer said in a statement.

The directive orders department directors and agency heads to ban the use of private email for conducting state business within the executive branch. State email also cannot be used for non-state activity. Whitmer also directed that state emails not be destroyed except in compliance with applicable record-retention schedules.

The use of private email for government business, while not illegal, has attracted attention in Michigan and nationally.

When Whitmer’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, voluntarily released thousands of pages of emails related to the Flint water crisis, some emails showed Snyder and his staff using their personal accounts.

Liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan sued after then-Attorney General Bill Schuette — Whitmer’s later Republican rival for governor — rejected a public-records request for his and his employees’ private emails used for official work. The emails primarily related to scheduling senior staff meetings, news conferences and media interviews.

Ivanka Trump recently defended her use of a private email account as she was moving into an adviser’s position in her father’s administration, after he and other Republicans had criticized Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

State employees’ emails are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, though the governor’s office and Legislature are exempt. In 2015, Michigan was given an “F” on transparency and accountability as part of a 50-state analysis done by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit investigative journalism organization.

Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott said Whitmer’s directive is a “great move to bring some much-needed ethics and transparency changes to our state.” Her order is silent on other private forms of communication such as text messages, social media and messaging services.

Also Thursday, Whitmer issued directives related to ethical standards for state employees, spending irregularities, budgetary and legislative work, and the misuse of state resources for political activities.


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