SUMMERFIELD - Another week has rolled by and Mayor Gail Dunham, who ironically ran for office on a platform of transparency, has still not fulfilled even the first of what is a mounting pile of public records requests (10 to date) for copies of either all or specific town business-related emails she has sent and received since being sworn into office Dec. 12; the oldest request on file is dated April 25.
Town Manager Scott Whitaker sent an email July 24 to those who have submitted requests for Dunham's emails, apologizing that they had not yet been fulfilled. He explained the town is not in possession of the emails and the mayor has declined the offer of technical assistance to retrieve them.
In a follow-up to Whitaker's email, Town Attorney Bill Hill confirmed he had reviewed the public records requests for Dunham's emails as they were received and sufficient information was provided from all the requesters.
The mayor has listed five requesters who she said did not sufficiently complete their public records request form and said she would not respond to "piecemeal" requests or make additions or corrections to them. The Northwest Observer was included on the mayor's list for a request submitted on June 19, and she has not responded to repeated questions about what information was missing from the request.
"My public records request complies with Chapter 132 of the North Carolina General Statutes and I cannot legally be required to provide any information that has not already been provided on my PRR form dated June 19," Northwest Observer Editor Patti Stokes wrote in an email to Dunham on July 24. "I feel confident there is nothing legally missing from my request and you are therefore obligated to fulfill it... exactly what information do you find my public records request dated June 19 is legally lacking and is keeping you from fulfilling it? Please answer the question."
Dunham wrote back that she did not have a copy of the Northwest Observer's public records request, and offered this advice to Stokes: "I suggest you keep your request with the Town as they have all the Summerfield town business emails and request them all, so that no word, phrase, or sentence is taken out of context. Town also has the IT expert to get them off the town server."
But the town can not get Dunham's town business-related emails off its server because Dunham declined a summerfieldgov.com email account when she took office in December, opting instead to set up her own email account through yahoo.com. Dunham has also used her personal email@example.com account to communicate with select individuals about town business.
"Your statement that the town has 'all the Summerfield town business emails...' and that our IT contractor can 'get them off the town server' isn't truthful," Whitaker wrote to Dunham on the morning of July 25 after learning she had pointed the Northwest Observer back to the town to access her emails. "We have zero access to emails that you send and receive from either of your two known email addresses aside from those ultimately received by our server. Stating that me, Bill Hill, or staff can provide all (or even a majority of) your emails is passing the buck... You have multiple, valid PRRs awaiting your compliance."
Dunham holds the record for submitting the most public records requests of any citizen in the town's history, and has frequently and publicly chastised town staff and council members for not fulfilling them in what she has deemed a "timely manner."