Knoxville officials’ Smokies relocation emails reveal desire for secrecy

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Though much of the talk surrounding a new professional baseball stadium in Knoxville has been a secret for years, emails between city and state employees are shedding new light on what may be in store. They also show one of the key players asking another to use a personal email address “for confidentiality.”

There is not a state law that prevents government employees from using private email addresses for work, but it is interesting to see that secrecy appears to have been a concern for those involved.

More: Emails: Discussion as early as 2014 to move Smokies baseball team to Knoxville

email2In October, Smokies owner and Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd sent an email to Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and her deputy Christi Branscom. It was just before the news about Regal Entertainment moving its headquarters to Knoxville broke.

He wrote: “We are having a bad stretch of leaks from the area….If you can, round up your team and remind them and the company to be cautious.” Later in the email it says, “Hard to keep a secret in our town.”

However, government business is public business, which is not supposed to be a secret. That’s why a February email from Branscom to Boyd caught our eye in which the city redacted Branscom’s email address. She wrote, “I’m using our secondary email addresses for confidentiality,” and then went on to talk about the possibility of a new baseball stadium in Knoxville.

Deborah Fisher, the executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said while some government employees sometimes use a personal email accidentally, the written intention of using a private address is concerning.

email1“It does sound like a problem to me when you have a government official plainly saying let’s do something that will make this confidential, i.e. make this so the public can’t know about it.”

A spokesperson for the City of Knoxville said the city doesn’t have a rule or regulations about which email addresses should be used when conducting city business.

WATE 6 On Your Side asked why Branscom specifically wanted to handle the subject through her personal email account and were told:

“In cases where an employee is writing to somebody they already know about a potentially sensitive topic, they may sometimes use a different account to keep the discussion segregated from the normal flow of business. That was the case with Christi Branscom’s email to Randy Boyd. The email is still a public record and was provided upon request to the media.”

Branscom was out of town and not available for comment.

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