Andy Berke Asked to Resign Due to Deliberate Acts to Circumvent Legal Communications

Andy Berke Asked to Resign Due to Deliberate Acts to Circumvent Legal Communications
Using encrypted social media platforms to conduct city business prevent access
to important information and violates the public’s trust in government

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Sept. 30, 2016) – Following the admission by Mayor Andy Berke that he and his senior staff employ an encrypted message application that neither records or stores messages sent and received for the purpose of official city of Chattanooga business on a government-owned server, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Tony Sanders calls for Mayor Berke to immediately resign from office.

“I have heard from average citizens across the city and from currently elected officials who have the exact same response:  Mayor Berke and his staff are breaking laws that others must honor and adhere to as public officials,” noted Sanders of the city of Chattanooga’s legal records retention policy for a minimum of sixty days and the availability of records to comply with the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  “As an attorney and officer of the court, Mayor Berke either has no understanding of the open records law or has chosen to ignore it. Either way, it’s not acceptable for an elected official to conduct city business outside of the public realm.”

News coverage in both the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the records the first-person admission by the mayor that he used a software application that operates outside the jurisdiction of the city-owned and provided server for email communications.  From the website of “Whatsapp”, the application used by Berke and senior staff, “Some of your most personal moments are shared on WhatsApp, which is why we built end-to-end encryption into the latest versions of our app. When end-to-end encrypted, your messages and calls are secured so only you and the person you’re communicating with can read or listen to them, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp.”

Sanders continued, “The purpose of using end-to-end encryption is to ensure absolute separation from public access.  I have fielded numerous complaints from local citizens after Mayor Berke and the City Attorney Wade Hinton admitted using this tool for the purpose of conducting city business.  Their actions are clearly outside of the ethical bounds of a public official.  Mayor Berke promised an open and transparent government, but his actions and those of his senior staff violate the public’s trust and confidence in government.”

A Chattanooga City staff member was quoted in a September 21 article on the saying, “The mayor and his top staffers used it [smartphone messaging app] for the purpose of circumventing Open Records requests.”
The staff member continued and further explained that “the mayor and some top staff also used their personal cell phones, rather than city-issued phones, ‘intentionally to make it harder for anyone to get their communications through an Open Records request.'”

“Mayor Berke has deliberately created a communications pathway to prevent the public from accessing information which, by law, we must have the freedom and right to see.  His blatant disregard of ethical standards and the law pertaining to open records make him no longer fit to lead the city of Chattanooga,” concluded Chairman Sanders.

Andy Berke is in his first term as mayor for the city of Chattanooga, which will hold its next election on Tuesday, March 7, 2017.