HOUSTON – Emails kept secret by politicians seem to have a notorious tendency of being revealed.
Whether they involve a personal or government server, email scandals have impacted leaders from Washington, D.C., to Houston City Hall.
Last fall, Mayor Sylvester Turner's former press secretary Darian Ward failed to turn over thousands of pages of emails.
After the scandal broke, Turner defended Ward, telling Channel 2 Investigates she did her job extremely well.
Then, weeks into the controversy, Ward abruptly resigned.
Since then, Turner has touted transparency as one of his top priorities, which is why Andy Icken's hidden emails are so intriguing.
Icken is the city’s chief development officer and a trusted member of Turner's inner circle. Icken is the city's top dealmaker; his primary focus is to help grow business.
When asked if he is looking out for the city’s best interest in all deals he is involved in, Icken quickly said, “That is my job."
During Channel 2 Investigates February investigation into State Representative Jim Murphy's lucrative deal as general manager of the Westchase District, Channel 2 Investigates obtained more than 200 emails from Westchase between Murphy and Icken. There were 23 emails detailing city business that came from Icken's personal AOL account.
We asked the mayor's office multiple times for the city's copies of Icken's emails dealing with city business, including personal ones.
Each time, we were told there were none.
“I never had them,” Icken said during a sit-down interview at City Hall. When reminded that he sent them, Icken said, "I sent them and then they were deleted by my mail, by my email account."
When asked why he should not be suspended?
“Because I follow all the rules that I was told to follow and been instructed to follow from the city."
However, Ward was suspended for similar violations.
Ward's boss determined she misrepresented the volume of emails that should have been turned over.
Only after Channel 2 Investigates informed the mayor's office that Icken appeared to be in violation of state law did the city provide his personal emails, more than four months after our first request.
They show Icken conducting business with State Rep. Jim Murphy. The email shows the two discussing a Westchase Project involving a seven-figure investment from the city. Murphy writes to Icken, "Thanks for watching my back," referring to his dealings with other city executives.
Icken then provides guidance to Murphy in his negotiations with those same executives writing, "Stay the course ..."
Icken is referring to roadblocks Murphy encountered with Harry Hayes, the chief operating officer of the city. After telling Murphy that Hayes' actions are a ”delaying tactic,” Icken then tells Murphy, "You should be on firm ground - I believe - !!"
Channel 2 Investigates asked why, if Icken’s duty is to look out for the best interesst of the city, was he emailing Murphy on a separate email account, again not including other members in a negotiation? Icken responded as follows: “It was an accident, I was on the AOL account, I believe."
Channel 2 Investigates also asked Icken why should taxpayers, city employees and the mayor trust him moving forward.
“I have always followed the rules of this city, for all 12-plus years that I have been with this city, I have been instructed to follow the rules and I followed them this time and every other time,” Icken said.
Channel 2 Investigates then quickly stated the following: “In this instance, when we made the request though, again it was (a) detailed request through the mayor’s communication officer for all personal and city emails that were not turned over, sir.”
Icken responded that, “I did. All that I secured, I turned over.”
They were turned over, however, only after Channel 2 Investigates informed the city.
Turner is traveling in South America with Icken on a trade mission, but did issue a statement to Channel 2 Investigates: “I expect every city employee to comply with the Texas Public Information Act to every degree. It appears that Andy Icken did so.”
Channel 2 Investigates plans to get reaction from council members at City Hall on Wednesday.