SARATOGA SPRINGS – Email addresses for several thousands of residents in the city of Saratoga Springs were sent to former elected officials’ personal email accounts in October 2020, according to an investigation by the city’s Commissioner of Finance office, which oversees the IT Department.
The residents’ emails – which the city’s Recreation Department collected and kept in a spreadsheet as part of its normal business as people took part in various recreational activities – were then used by at least one political campaign on at least one known occasion, said Mayor Ron Kim, who announced the findings of the investigation on Monday. The mayor declined to name which campaign used the email addresses. Former Mayor Meg Kelly’s Gmail account was one of the email addresses to receive the spreadsheet containing residents’ emails, the investigation found.
Kelly did not respond to calls seeking comment.
“Our data tells us that at some point this email spreadsheet was forwarded to Meg Kelly,” Kim said. “Our other data indicates that other campaigns – not necessarily Meg Kelly’s – used it for their own purposes.”
The sharing of the email addresses violates typical protocol, but city leaders were still in the process of determining if any laws were broken, Kim said. Nothing other than names and email addresses were shared, the investigation found.
The mayor said his office became aware of the breach in protocol earlier this month after several people, whom the mayor declined to name, approached the city saying they became concerned that their email addresses had been improperly shared.
Kim said one individual who received an email from a campaign suspected the email address had been shared from the Recreation Department’s list because that person said the particular email address had only ever been used for activities relating to the department.
“One particular person said the email that I am being contacted at, the only time I ever used that email was with the Recreation Department,” Kim said. “That was one of the accusations that made us start thinking about this.”
Following several such complaints, Kim said he initiated an investigation by the Commissioner of Finance’s department.
“Commissioner [Minita] Sanghvi’s department reviewed digital records and did in fact discover that on or about October 21, 2020, the Recreation Department email list was sent to several employees outside the Recreation Department, who would not normally have access to this information,” Kim said in a statement. “In addition, there is also digital evidence that the email spreadsheet was directly sent to former Mayor Meg Kelly’s Gmail account. It may also have been released by other elected officials, and we are continuing to investigate that possibility.”
Kim said the investigation revealed that in October of 2020 there was debate in City Hall whether the Department of Recreation’s spreadsheet could be shared with other city departments.
“There was resistance, and I guess, eventually, the powers that be here prevailed,” Kim said.
John Hirliman, the city’s administrative director of Recreation, did not return messages seeking comment.
The city is in the process of turning over its information to the proper legal authorities to determine if there were any criminal violations, said Kim. Regardless of whether any laws were violated, the breach of protocol is concerning, the mayor said.
“We don’t know who is using the email addresses and what they are using them for,” Kim said.
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.