Email of former Newport mayor uncovered through FOIA raises ethical, legal concerns

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NEWPORT –– A recently uncovered email from former Newport Mayor Paul Monette has raised ethical and legal questions, casting a shadow over the city’s governance and transparency.

The email, disclosed through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by local resident Pam Ladds, reveals Monette’s actions in deleting official emails from his mayoral account upon leaving office. 

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Dated March 8, 2023, the email was sent to former City Manager Laura Dolgin from Monette’s personal account. The email details his decision to “purge my entire email,” citing concerns over the new administration’s approach to transparency. The full email reads: 

Hi Laura, You probably noticed that I purged my entire email. I was not sure how you were going to set up the new Mayor’s email. This was due to a concern that the new Mayor would make emails associated with the lawsuit’s public in the name of transparency. I have kept copies of all emails related to them in a word document on my computer and backed up to the cloud. 

The date of the email also raises questions as to when Monette went in and deleted the emails. On March 8, when his email to Dolgin was sent, Monette was no longer mayor, and should not have had access to his old email account. 

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This incident comes at a time when Newport’s city governance is already under scrutiny. 

Ladds filed the FOIA request seeking clarity on the transition period between administrations, expressing frustration over what she described as relentless attacks on newly elected officials, hindering their ability to effectively govern. 

“How could someone disappear emails, after they were no longer an officer, relocate them and justify the process as preventing the new Mayor from having access,” Ladds questioned, emphasizing the gravity of the situation.

The current Mayor, Linda Joy Sullivan, acknowledged the situation when Newport Dispatch reached out to her on Saturday.  

“All of this is unfortunate. We just learned of this email a couple of days ago and our City lawyers have been looking into the circumstances,” Sullivan said. 

Mayor Sullivan, while reserving further comment until a more comprehensive understanding is reached, assured that the city would revisit document retention policies and training.

The situation is further complicated by Vermont’s public records laws. As outlined by the Vermont Secretary of State’s website, public records are deemed permanent unless their destruction is authorized under an approved record schedule. 

These policies are designed to ensure transparency and accountability in government operations. The Vermont Supreme Court has previously ruled that digital documents stored in private accounts but related to government business are subject to the Public Records Act. This ruling underscores the potential legal implications of Monette’s actions.

For now, the city awaits further developments, as Mayor Sullivan and the city’s legal team delve into the intricate legal and ethical dimensions of this situation. The story is developing and will continue to unfold as more information becomes available.

Amidst these challenges, Mayor Sullivan remains focused on the future of Newport, underscoring her commitment to moving the city forward.

“You know, over the last few weeks the Council has been interviewing candidates to fill the open City Manager and Fire Chief positions, and we’re very excited to have spoken to some very strong applicants,” Mayor Sullivan remarked. “I know that my fellow Council members and I are all about this recruitment effort of building a strong and vibrant Newport we all can be proud of. There’s a vision forming for the future of the City. We have to get past some of this old stuff.” 

In an interview, Ladds expressed both astonishment and concern about the potential motives behind the former mayor’s actions.

“The disrespect shown to voters is mind blowing. And my deeper question is what on earth is being covered up? This is really sad.”

In an effort to provide a comprehensive view of the situation, Newport Dispatch reached out to former Mayor Paul Monette for his comments and perspective on the matter. As of the time of publishing this article, Monette had not responded to our request. 

This story remains open, and should Monette choose to provide his insights or rebuttals in the future, we will update our coverage accordingly, ensuring readers have access to all sides of this significant community issue.

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