On March 30, 2023, the on-line news outlet New Mexico Sun published the following news item:
HEADLINE: Albuquerque officials deny blogger’s claim that someone was screening his emails
“Pete Dinelli isn’t buying the official response.
Dinelli, a former Albuquerque City Council member who writes the news and commentary blog PeteDinelli.com, is furious that his emails were blocked to more than 250 Albuquerque city officials and employees.
Albuquerque Digital Engagement Manager Erika Eddy said the block was removed March 27. Eddy said it was put in place after a misunderstanding.
“The Department of Technology and Innovation has not received any requests to block Pete Dinelli’s emails and also does not block any emails based on requests,” she told New Mexico Sun. “On March 22, 2023, DTI used its normal security protocols to review an email that was flagged as attempted phishing. The email appeared to fit many criteria for a phishing attempt and was blocked, with the block removed yesterday once it was determined to be non-malicious. DTI has the primary responsibly to keep all city digital assets secure, including the roughly 1.5 million emails sent to the city each month.”
Dinelli is not convinced.
“The bottom line is, I simply do not believe what IT is telling you. I do not believe IT,” he told New Mexico Sun. “Someone was screening what they want these people to see. And that goes for the mayor. To me, this is extremely troubling. This is a pattern of conduct that cannot be tolerated. It’s a threat to democracy. Someone had to do it. This was not computer-generated.”
Dinelli’s political blog began publishing on Oct. 27, 2016. Over the last six years, 1,662 blog articles he wrote about city, county and state news and issues have been published. Dinelli said he aims to provide commentary, analysis and possible solutions to the problems of Albuquerque while trying to completely avoid “political gossip.”
For six years, his voice was heard across the state. Last week, that changed.
On March 22, Dinelli published an article with the headline “City Pays Obscene Millions Of Overtime To Select Few First Responders Despite Repeated Scandals Of Paying 2 and 3 Times Base Pay; $34,380 Bonus And Longevity Pay To 19 Year Cop Veterans; An In Depth Review Of The 4 Year History Of Overtime Abuse Allowed By Hapless Mayor Tim Keller And City Council,” and emailed it out.
On March 23, an article titled “APD Chief Harold Medina Embellishes City’s ‘Slight’ Decline In Crime Rates Claiming APD Fighting ‘Perception Of Crime’; Reality Is ABQ Has Become Violent City; ‘Figures Don’t Lie, But Liars Figure’ And Programs Fail” was sent out.
Within 15 minutes, 108 emails came back saying Dinelli was blocked. He later concluded that his emails were blocked by at least 251 city employees. Dinelli wrote about this on his blog, saying that his emails, which he uses to send his articles to readers, have been blocked by all email addresses using the city of Albuquerque’s cabq.gov domain.
He was surprised and appalled at what he considers an attempt to censor his views.
“Over the years I have gotten very little feedback from city officials on the articles, but I do know they get them and have been told by the mayor, city councilors and city employees they read and often discuss them,” he said. “My article describes how I found that my emails were blocked by city official email addresses when I got immediate notification from 251 City Hall officials. To me, the blocking or deletion of emails by government officials is illegal and a violation of First Amendment rights of free speech and the press, and my reasons are contained in the blog article.”
Dinelli said he has an idea what caused this to happen.
“I think there have been more than a few blog articles that motivated the blocking and again this is discussed in the blog article,” he said. “The blocks began after I published my blog article on overtime pay abuses naming individuals and salaries.”
Dinelli said he has been in contact with three city councilors and they said they made no request to block him and are upset that someone can actually screen or stop them from getting emails. A fourth city councilor has also said no request was made to block Dinelli’s emails, he said.
Dinelli said something very similar happened with an Albuquerque online news agency called ABQ Raw. He also said specific city councilors have attempted to block him in the past, so the explanation offered by the city has not convinced him it was a computer error.
“I simply do not believe city IT without more proof and there is a reason for that,” Dinelli said. “ABQ Raw is in ligation with the city over being blocked or deprived of requested information.”
“Whether you believe me or the city IT, what happened was unacceptable and much stricter controls need to be implemented,” he said. “In particular, city IT needs to send notifications to people who are blocked. My AOL account notified me my emails were blocked, not city IT.”
Dinelli is a native of Albuquerque. He is a licensed New Mexico attorney with 27 years of municipal and state government service, including as an assistant attorney general, assistant district attorney prosecuting violent crimes, Albuquerque deputy city attorney and chief public safety officer, Albuquerque city councilor, and several years in private practice.
“In my 27 years of public service as a prosecutor, judge, city councilor, deputy city attorney and chief public safety officer I do not recall a single time I blocked anyone,” he told New Mexico Sun. “As far as what I would like to see accomplished going forward, it’s that it never happens again to anyone and what steps is the city taking to make sure that it never happens again.”
The link to the New Mexico Sun news article is here:
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
It must be pointed out that www.PeteDinelli.com did not make any contact with the City’s IT Department requesting an explanation why emails were being blocked nor did City IT inform him the reasons why he had been blocked. What did happen is that various news agencies contacted City IT to ask why a block was initiated and then they were told the block was lifted. City IT never sent a notification to Pete Dinelli of emails being unblocked.
The blocking of Dinelli emails was so very wrong on too many levels and those levels include the following:
- It is considered censorship and a flagrant attempt to stifle free speech and to suppress critics.
- It deprives constituents and the public the right to contact their duly elected city officials and public safety officials.
- Elected officials should be very concerned if anyone is screening or or blocking what they are being sent in the regular course of business and its being done without their knowledge or consent.
- The mass blocking of any E-Mail that involves city business constitutes abuse of City Information Technology (IT) System paid for by taxpayers.
- E-mail accounts are not the elected official’s property nor the individual employee’s property and they do not have the right of censorship by blocking a person’s emails because they do not want them or do not care to read them.
- There is no right of expectation of privacy when it comes to city email accounts. The email addresses are a matter of public record that the public are entitled to access and send communications.
- Any citizen who is blocked by APD and Albuquerque Fire and Rescue can be placed into jeopardy unable to make contact by email to report and document incidents.
The City Council needs to demand a full and complete explanation of what happened. A referral needs to be made to the Inspector General or Internal Audit to review IT policy to determine appropriateness of city policy. The city council needs to know who can block their emails and who did block their emails.
No elected or city official should ever tolerate the screening, stoppage or censoring of legitimate communications from the public.
ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO SUN
The New Mexico Sun is part of the Sun Publishing group which is a nonprofit. The New Mexico Sun “mission statement” states in part:
“The New Mexico Sun was established to bring fresh light to issues that matter most to New Mexicans. It will cover the people, events, and wonders of our state. … The New Mexico Sun is non-partisan and fact-based, and we don’t maintain paywalls that lead to uneven information sharing. We don’t publish quotes from anonymous sources that lead to skepticism about our intentions, and we don’t bother our readers with annoying ads about products and services from non-locals that they will never buy. … Many New Mexico media outlets minimize or justify problematic issues based on the individuals involved or the power of their positions. Often reporters fail to ask hard questions, avoid making public officials uncomfortable, and then include only one side of a story. This approach doesn’t provide everything readers need to fully understand what is happening, why it matters, and how it will impact them or their families.”
The home page link to the New Mexico Sun is here: