A Cautionary Blog Post: On Unproven Allegations Councillor Skelly Used Personal Email for Civic Business

By Joey Coleman // @JoeyColeman
Published: Mar 25 2017 (a month ago) // Last Updated: Mar 25 2017 (a month ago)

A now public letter to Hamilton City Council alleges Ward 7 City Councillor Donna Skelly is using her personal Gmail address to communicate with No LRT organisers.

It is an extremely serious allegation, which is completely unproven and unsupported at this time.

I write this blog post because I'm seeing people writing about the allegation leaning towards an assumption it is true.

Until such time as there is actual proof, I strongly advise everyone to pause on spreading this information and to await confirmation of the facts.

The letter is now a public documentation as part of the Council agenda.

As such you can express your feelings on it, but you must always state it is only an allegation, and keep your comments within the laws of libel and slander.

Checking the Claim

There are many methods to investigate the allegation as a journalist.

Firstly, I'm held to a higher standard of responsible communication, and must carefully weight evidence and facts before publication. Failure to do means I lose this legal defence.

Let's start with what we know, the source of the allegation, and the letter making the allegation.

You can read the letter for yourself on the City website. It is Item 5.15 (m) on the March 29 Council Agenda. (As republication exposes me to liability, I'm not hosting the letter on my servers)

What We Know For Sure

Skepticism is Important to Start: the Email Address

I dislike the phrase "If you're mother says she loves you, check it out", but the cautionary tale underlying it is important.

What evidence is there to support the claim?

The email address is true, it is Skelly's personal email. We can confirm this via Twitter by entering the email and her account handle requesting a password reset:

Skelly Twitter Password Reset

Those of us who've received email blasts from the No LRT campaign have seen the groups distribution list. It includes Skelly's personal email account.

There is no violation in Councillor Skelly receiving an email to her personal account - she cannot control who sends her email. The allegation is that Skelly is sending emails regarding Council business from her personal account.

Her email address is well know, the letter's citing it does not add credence to the allegation.

The Source

We have to weight the credibility of the source.

Who is Theodore Sares?

I start with my history with the source, on in this case, lack thereof.

I've never met Sares, for someone so active, who ran a short-lived Twitter account speaking out on the LRT issue, I'm surprised I can't recall ever meeting them at any LRT events.

I've reached out to others tonight, and nobody I spoke to can recall meeting them either.

Lucky for us, they do not have a common name, and Google is our friend.

A search only returns activity related to the short-lived @nohamiltonlrt Twitter account, and recent activity.

A search of "Ted Sares" returns nothing relate to Sares in Hamilton. Searching using Sares email address returns nothing. (The address is confirmed via No LRT distribution and Twitter's password reset)

We cannot find any other online traces confirming Sares identity.

"Too Good to Be True"

In my ten years as a professional journalist, I've seen my share of "too good to be true" stories - they arrive in my inbox and private messages regularly.

I have to skeptical about Sares sudden conversion in November from being parody-worthy anti-LRT to issuing "An Apology". It hits all the right emotional marks, even including references to sober second thoughts seeing Trump elected.

I cannot verify the sincerity of the apology.

Since November, Sares has gone completely silent - not launching any new accounts or further participating in online conversations. I'd expect a convert to remain active in the discussion.

Personalities

Skelly has earned the disdain of those in favour of LRT. She's brass, and her political rhetoric can be detached from the truth.

It's no surprise that people have jumped on this allegations that she misused personal email.

Skelly calls The Public Record fake news for reporting her statements at Council, and posting full in-context video of those statements.

Skelly Knows Rules Around FOI and Personal Email

Too good to be true.

I'm a journalist. I start with it being absurd that she would so openly flout rules to get around freedom of information disclosures.

As a former CHCH journalist, Skelly knows the legislation and knows that in the long term, it's nearly impossible to get away with using a personal email address as a politician.

Politically, she loses nothing if someone FOIs her Council emails and were to find she was working with the No LRT movement - there's nothing wrong with a politician being involved in political organizing, and none of her political supporters would abandon her if this was revealed - it would likely solidify her base.

She gains nothing from using a personal email. Nothing. If the allegations are true, she loses a lot.

This is a key reason I'm very skeptical of the allegation on the surface.

Summary

At this time, there is no evidence to support the allegation.

At 2041EDT Friday March 25, I emailed Skelly asking her about the allegation.

I expect Skelly will issue a denial. Lacking any supporting evidence, unable to confirm the reliability of the allegation or person making it, and not practising non-fact based "she said, he said" journalism, I'll have to close the file on the allegation.

Skelly would be politically wise to support an Integrity Commissioner investigation of this matter. It's a cloud that is best cleared up by a full investigation. If cleared by the IC, Skelly will come out of this with a political win.

As for everyone who I wrote this to give them caution: if the IC rules this never happened, Skelly will be able to cite the stronger social media messages in her narrative about social media being a bad place.

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