Mayor Durkan, city officials' text messages missing following investigation into public records requests

Nearly 10 months worth of Mayor Jenny Durkan's text messages went missing following an investigation triggered by a whistleblower into the mayor's office mishandling a series of public records requests.

The texts that were not acquired include messages from August 2019 to June 2020, during which demonstrations and the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) took place in Seattle and SPD officers had to vacate the East Precinct.

Dan Nolte, a spokesperson with City Attorney Pete Holmes confirmed with Q13 News Saturday the missing text messages and that the city spent, to date, "hundreds of thousands of dollars in attempting to locate and reconstruct the missing messages." The city worked with forensic experts to require the missing messages from her phone, but due to a "retention setting" with Durkan’s iPhone, their efforts were unsuccessful.

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Additionally, six other city officials have missing text messages, some due to being locked out of their phone due to password problems, Nolte said. Messages not recovered include Seattle Fire Chief Herald Scoggins, Idris Beauregard, Kenneth Neafcy, Chris Fisher and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best and Assistant Chief Eric Greening. The City is still working to acquire messages from the phones of SPD Chief Commanding Officer Valarie Anderson and SPD Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette following issues with their phone password settings or device management software.

Nolte says the city has acquired other City employee text messages that may help with the exchanges that took place. The City is working with the plaintiff’s counsel in the Hunters Capital and Summer Taylor lawsuits to recover the texts, as well as Black Lives Matter to collect any related messages and information.

The investigation into the public records requests determined that legal counsel, Michelle Chen, mishandled the document and excluded text messages from certain public records, according to the Seattle Times. 

Durkan’s office attributed the lost text messages to an "unknown technology issue".  

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Stephanie Formas, spokesperson for Mayor Durkan sent the following statement to Q13 News Thursday evening:  

The Mayor believes strongly that the Whistleblower process is an important part of ensuring good government.  She will consult with the City Attorney’s office to determine what steps must be taken to response to the report consistent with the requirements of the Whistleblower statute.  

At all times, the Mayor believes and has assumed all her text messages, calendar, and emails were available to anyone through the Public Records Act and should be quickly and fully produced. The report reflects that commitment and the extensive efforts to disclose any thousands of copies of messages that were lost due to an unknown technology issue.  

The Mayor fully intends for any further technology gaps highlighted in any of the reviews will be addressed moving forward to prevent any such records losses in the future. The Mayor remains committed to meeting the City’s responsibility to retain all public records, including text messages.  

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