Globe staff photo/Pat Greenhouse
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s challengers today jointly accused his administration of violating state public records law and said they are sending to the secretary of state hundreds of e-mails detailing city business that a top Menino aide apparently erased in a way that kept them off a backup computer system.
Standing shoulder to shoulder on City Hall Plaza, the three candidates -- City Councilors Michael F. Flaherty Jr. and Sam Yoon, and South End businessman Kevin McCrea -- took turns speaking at the microphone as they also took turns hammering away at the incumbent just eight days before next Tuesday’s preliminary election.
In response to a public records request by the Globe, Menino's administration said that it had found only 18 e-mails between Oct. 1, 2008, and March 31 of this year sent or received by top aide Michael J. Kineavy, and that he was routinely deleting e-mails.
According to Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the state public records law requires municipal employees to save most electronic correspondence for at least two years, even if the contents are of “no informational or evidential value.’’ The only e-mails that city employees are allowed to delete are those with completely inconsequential information, such as spam.
Flaherty accused the mayor of engaging in a "cover-up" that has affected thousands of city records, and plans to turn over to Galvin today 300 e-mails that his campaign says involve Kineavy.
His campaign spokeswoman, Natasha Perez, did not release copies of the e-mails but characterized their contents as "regular city business." A quick perusal of a few of them showed they focused on subjects ranging from Asian-American voting rights to beach cleanups to a public hearing on education.
“This isn’t a virus, folks,’’ Flaherty told a heavily attended press conference. “This isn’t a glitch. This appears to be a cover-up.’’
In a press conference scheduled at the same time inside City Hall, Menino's chief lawyer and Cabinet chief for information technology explained how city servers are now keeping back-up copies of every e-mail sent or received by every city employee. Corporation Counsel William Sinnott said the employees who were deleting e-mails, including Kineavy and possibly also Transportation Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin, told city officials that they did not know the e-mails had not already been captured on servers. Therefore, Sinnott said, the employees did not willfully violate the state public records law.
In addition, Sinnott said, there is no proof that the deleted e-mails contained substantive city business and are therefore subject to retention and disclosure under the law.
"We have no reason to believe that they were," he said.
The issue of e-mails surfaced this weekend when the Globe reported the administration’s response to a public records request for Kineavy e-mails resulted in the disclosure that he apparently routinely emptied out his City Hall e-mail account.
Menino's challengers pressed their case aggressively today. Yoon said the administration has engaged in a calculated effort to ignore the record-keeping rules. “You must have something to hide,’’ Yoon said of the mayor.
He added, "Everyone knows to get jobs, you have to go through Kineavy. To get permits, you have to go through Kineavy. Everyone at City Hall knows that."
McCrea said he has eight e-mails covering city business that Kineavy should have maintained. He said he has written to Galvin asking that Galvin probe the deletions.
Separately, Flaherty and Yoon sent letters to Attorney General Martha Coakley and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley asking that they open criminal investigations.
Kineavy is a key Menino strategist who was cited in a federal corruption indictment against former state senator Dianne Wilkerson as the mayoral "aide" whom Wilkerson spoke with to get help securing a liquor license for a prospective bar owner, according to two public officials briefed on the case. The bar owner was actually working undercover for the FBI and paying Wilkerson thousands of dollars to help win the license.
Federal prosecutors have said the Menino administration was not the target of an investigation. But as part of its investigation, the FBI subpoeaned e-mails from City Hall, and Kineavy's were within the scope of that subpoena, said the two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the federal investigation.
Sinnott said today that Kineavy has deleted e-mails on a daily basis for the past five years in a way that they were not backed up on city servers and therefore copies of all e-mails were not turned over to the FBI in response to the subpoena. He said the Menino administration didn't realize at the time that any of Kineavy's e-mails may have been missing from what was turned over, and the FBI "never asked for more."
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