QUEENSBURY — Town Councilman Doug Irish has been using his town email for political work, Democrats discovered after he challenged them to submit a Freedom of Information Law request for his emails.
They sent an official complaint to the state Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday after reading Irish’s emails. The Queensbury Democratic Committee alleges that Irish has misused government resources, specifically his town email account.
Irish, a Republican, moved to North Carolina in July, but he has not resigned his position. He also hasn’t stopped campaigning, according to his official town emails.
In some of the emails, he and Town Attorney John Aspland discussed with Town Board candidate Hal Bain whether Bain could drop out of the Ward 1 race. Their decision: Bain could not drop out, but he should resign after getting elected so that the Republicans could replace him with someone they like better than Councilman Tony Metivier. (Metivier is also a Republican, running for re-election in Ward 1, but is not endorsed by the Republicans. He won the primary for the line despite their endorsement of Bain.)
Bain sent Aspland a letter from his doctor, describing his fall out of a fishing boat. Aspland said he couldn’t use that to get out of the race.
“This letter, unfortunately, just makes it sound like you changed your mind and that will not cut it in my opinion,” Aspland wrote.
Bain would need a judge’s order to get out of the race and be replaced by someone else. Irish was not interested in letting Bain just drop out.
“I think if we want to get Tony (Metivier) out of office we will need the committee in Ward 1 to step up to get Hal elected and then have him resign before taking office and let the board appoint for however long election law allows,” Irish wrote.
Contacted after the complaint was filed, Irish insisted he had done nothing wrong.
“I guess the AG’s office will decide if it’s an issue,” he said. “I’m guessing it’s a whole lot of nothing. I’m not concerned.”
The AG’s office had no immediate comment on whether email accounts can be misused, but local municipal attorneys said they always advise their boards to keep political work off their government email accounts, phones and computers.
“I tell my guys, keep your lives separate,” said Washington County Attorney Roger Wickes. “The general rule is you don’t campaign out of your government office.”
In addition to the rule, he noted that if a politician detailed election strategies in a government email, as Irish did, the opposition could find out all about it through a Freedom of Information Law request for the emails. All government emails are subject to FOIL.
Political work on official email can also create misunderstandings. In the emails between Aspland, Bain and Irish, a reader could have difficulty determining whether Aspland was speaking as the town attorney or as a Republican Party committee member. Was the town attorney telling Bain that he must resign after winning the election (and not before)? Or was Aspland simply offering personal advice?
“You are using, essentially, the force of a power of office,” said Queensbury Democratic Committee Co-Chair Mike Parwana, who filed the complaint against Irish. “I don’t know who the town attorney is representing there. The town attorney is paid to represent the town. If you don’t make some distinction between what is said personally and what is said with the power of the office, it can be very difficult for the public to understand.”
In other emails to his town email account, Irish received bills to be paid by the Warren County Republican Committee. Those included a bill of $535 to Elite Protective & Investigative Services Inc. in August. That appeared to reference an issue Irish discussed in email in July regarding whether Supervisor John Strough did not properly notarize some Conservative Party signatures.
He also used his town email to teach others how to run effective campaigns and handle the paperwork to meet election laws.
In July, Irish sent a petition to Mark Wescott, the volunteer campaign manager for town supervisor candidate Rachel Seeber, explaining how to create an independent party line.
“Make sure you have the addresses for each of the people you list as the committee to fill vacancies,” he wrote. “Just look at one of our Republican ones and do it the same way.”
And they routinely contacted him at his town email to plan political activity. Seeber, using her personal account, sent detailed emails debating the independent party name and how to campaign on it. Wescott also wrote to Irish regularly, on everything from paying campaign bills to scheduling time for strategizing.
Irish acknowledged that some of the emails look bad, particularly the plan for Bain to run for office knowing that he would resign immediately if he won.
“Keep in mind it’s a political decision about how do we win this seat,” Irish said. “I’m sorry people don’t like to see how sausage is made, but this is how sausage is made.”