Transparency becoming an issue for Mayor Berke
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee (WDEF) — There appears to be more fallout from an alleged scandal involving Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and his senior advisor Lacey Stone.
There are now two published reports confirming the mayor and his advisor used encrypted apps on their cell phones to hide communications from the public.
The mobile encryption APP at the center of this latest controversy is called What’s App. According to at least one published report, a member of Mayor Berke’s staff told a reporter, “the mayor and his top staffers used it for the purpose of circumventing open records requests.” That’s basically another way of saying the mayor and his staff were trying to keep certain communications from becoming a record which is legally accessible to the public.
Chattanooga city Councilman Larry Grohn is running against Berke in the next mayoral election.
“I think any time that a public servant, especially the leader of the city is not being open and transparent, it puts their entire administration in question,” Grohn said.
Inquiry into communications between the mayor and his staff began several months ago after the arrest of Bobby Stone who is the estranged husband of Berke’s senior advisor Lacey Stone. Bobby Stone was charged with the domestic assault of his wife Lacey after saying he discovered Lacey was having an affair with Mayor Berke.
In a statement to police, Mr. Stone said he learned of the alleged affair through text messages on his wife’s phone.
According to a published report, Lacey deleted the encryption app on her phone the day after her husband was arrested. In another published report, Mayor Berke admitted to using the encrypted messaging app in the past.
“This is a head of administration which micromanages and who has failed in the most sacred trust of being open,” Grohn said.
News 12 attempted to get an interview from Mayor Berke or someone within his administration, instead, his communications coordinator emailed News 12 this statement:
City of Chattanooga employees have the right to use any app they choose on their personal phones, including common messenger apps like the popular What’s App which is owned by Facebook and used by over a billion people worldwide.
City policy clearly states that “communications (such as texts and emails) made or received on a personal wireless device in connection with the transaction of City business are subject to inspection”. This would include communications made by messaging apps.
The City of Chattanooga fulfills all requests in adherence to the Tennessee Open Records Act and this is a responsibility the City of Chattanooga takes seriously, regardless of how that content is delivered.
In the meantime, the TBI is still investigating the arrest of Bobby Stone to determine if politics played any role in the way he was arrested.