A Baltimore transportation official asked the agency's director if he'd been able to "tap into" email records of an employee suspected of leaking information to The Baltimore Sun about the city's troubled speed camera program, according to records obtained under the Public Information Act.
The question came in a Dec. 18 email from James Harkness, the head of the division that oversees the mothballed speed and red-light camera program.
"Were you able to tap into email records of the individual I suspect of being the 'source' in Luke's article?" Harkness asked Transportation Director William M. Johnson, referring to Sun reporter Luke Broadwater. (Editor's note: Sun reporter Scott Calvert also has reported extensively on speed cameras.)
Harkness sent the email on the day the Board of Estimates agreed to pay Brekford Corp. $600,000 to terminate its five-year contract. A month earlier, The Sun reported that the city was moving to cut ties, citing sources familiar with talks between the city and the Anne Arundel County firm.
The records provided to The Sun do not contain any response from Johnson. Neither he nor Harkness responded directly to questions about the email-tapping query. Instead Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, provided a statement.
"Mr. Harkness was mistaken in his use of the term tap," Harris wrote, "because that term implies that work communications belong to the employee, when in fact those communications belong to the city and are already subject to monitoring to guard against abuse of city equipment as well as ensure employees are doing their jobs while on city time."
Harris said the city's administrative manual makes clear that officials have "the right to access, to intercept, to record, and to disclose any and all communications" on the city's email network, "at any time, with or without notice to anyone."
He noted that city employees see this message when booting up their work computers: "This monitored computer is connected to the City of Baltimore's network and is subject to the City's Electronic Communication policy."
The city "takes seriously any improper or unlawful use or release" of information that could impact city government, Harris said, adding that he cannot comment on "specific or potential" personnel issues. "This is not to say that any employment or personnel action is or is not taking place," he wrote.