POSTED ON AUGUST 8, 2007:
When News Is Not News
City Councilor and radio personality agree "e-mailgate" a non-story
Medlock says the whole affair is a poorly-disguised hatchet job by political rivals at the local daily paper, noting publisher Robert E. Lorton, Jr's $2,500 contribution to the PAC responsible for his recall when he was a city councilor.
Since the story broke about Tulsa's own little "E-mailgate" last week, the "scandal" has been raising questions among Tulsans which range from ethical concerns about a certain city councilor-turned-radio personality, to "What's the big deal?"
While all parties concerned seem to see the whole episode as a proverbial "tempest in a teapot," the man in the center sees it as nothing more than a thinly veiled and petty attempt at character assassination by political rivals.
As reported first by a local television news channel and then by the local daily paper, former District 2 City Councilor Chris Medlock received e-mails intended for his successor, Councilor Rick Westcott, for about 10 months after he left office.
While no longer serving in public office, Medlock is still very much a public figure, co-hosting a morning radio talk show on KFAQ-1170 AM, as well as maintaining a personal Internet blog in which he offers regular commentary on city affairs.
Westcott said Medlock violated ethics and the privacy of his former constituents by not informing City Council staff that he was still receiving the e-mails and by using content from them in his blog and radio commentaries.
As Westcott and Medlock explained to UTW, while Medlock was in office, council staff had configured his city computer to forward messages to his city council e-mail address to his personal account so he could access them from his home computer.
After he left office in April 2006, that function was not deactivated, which meant e-mails presumably intended for Westcott still went to Medlock.
Westcott said he discovered the situation in February when an aide informed him that an e-mail sent to the councilor had been answered with a "Delivery Status Notification (Failure)"-notice for Medlock's personal address because the attachment was too big.
Westcott said the problem was immediately corrected.
"So why wait until now to bring it up if it was discovered in February?" UTW asked Westcott.
"I didn't bring it up. I spent probably 30 days talking to people, trying to decide what to do about it, but eventually I didn't see any reason to go out and make an issue out of it," Westcott recounted.
He said, "I know the headlines and news stories say things like 'City Councilor Rick Westcott is accusing former Councilor Chris Medlock...', but I don't have any agenda here--it's not like I'm trying to do anything."
After settling the matter in his own mind months ago, Westcott said the first he heard of it again was three days before the story broke on television when he "got a phone call out of the blue" from a certain reporter for the local daily paper.
Westcott said he's provided honest answers to questions from reporters about the situation, but he didn't go to them and he isn't interested in calling Medlock to task for it.
One such question posed to him by UTW concerned what e-mail content he believes Medlock wrongfully accessed to inform his commentary.
He said he believes Medlock intercepted an e-mail to councilors from a member of Mayor Kathy Taylor's staff, dated Feb. 2, about the proposed fire protection district plan.
"A couple of weeks later, he had a blog posted with a picture of (the staffer) and a caption about her 'making a full court press on city councilors to support the Mayor's fire district protection plan," he said.
Some of the information Medlock included in the blog was identical to content in the e-mail, Westcott said.
Westcott acknowledged, though, that none of that is conclusive proof of Medlock opening the e-mail.
The fact that one of the other city councilors could have told Medlock about the e-mail, and that the information was posted two weeks after the fact, both open the possibility that he got the information through other sources, Westcott said.
"I personally believe that he opened the e-mail, though," the councilor added.
However, Medlock told UTW that he'd obtained the information from another source and that he didn't open the e-mail in question.
He declined to identify the source, though.
"I know who my source is and it's someone who still works for the city and makes his living down there," Medlock said.
"He got (the information) from an aide who was shooting his mouth off too much," he added.
While he didn't open that particular e-mail, Medlock said he did open e-mails for the "first four weeks or so" after leaving office.
He opened the e-mails from his former constituents in the interest of helping Westcott, whom he considered a friend, ease into his role as a city councilor, Medlock said.
"I thought it was part of the transition process," the former councilor said. "I told Rick it would be like drinking out of a fire hose, and I'd help him out however I could."
Medlock said he and his successor never wound up discussing any of the content of those e-mails, though, as Westcott became absorbed in his new duties and Medlock in running for the state House of Representatives.
He said he soon lost interest and stopped thinking about the e-mails, and set his junk mail filter to receive them.
"When you're not employed to do it, it's pretty tedious stuff," said Medlock.
He didn't notify the city council staff to stop the e-mails from forwarding to him because, he said, "I just was busy with other things and I thought they'd take care of it--I just assumed at some point that they'd shut it down."
"This whole thing has been missed by a very excellent city administration missing dotting an 'i' or crossing a 'T,'" he added.
Medlock said he doesn't see what all the commotion is about, though, since all of those e-mails are subject to the Open Records Act anyway and could be obtained by any citizen simply by filling out a request form since they're sent to a public e-mail account.
City Council Chief of Staff Don Cannon agreed, and said constituents who e-mail councilors have no rightful expectation of privacy where that correspondence is concerned.
Concerning the recent media coverage of Medlock's alleged "ethics violation," Cannon said, "It's a bit surprising, since it happened so long ago. We thought it was water over the dam."
While he also sees it as "water over the dam," Medlock isn't terribly surprised by the recent coverage.
He said the whole affair is a poorly-disguised hatchet job by political rivals at the local daily paper, noting publisher Robert E. Lorton, Jr.'s $2,500 contribution to the PAC responsible for his recall when he was a city councilor.
Medlock speculated that a certain reporter at that paper leaked the story to the TV news channel so she wouldn't appear to be covering it out of a personal vendetta against him.
He also hypothesized that the issue was brought before the public's attention at this particular time to distract him and Westcott from a more timely issue otherwise occupying their attentions.
"I think they hoped we'd spend time swinging at each other and not covering the river tax proposal," Medlock said.
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