SLT clerk releases partial info, withholds own texts


By Kathryn Reed

The release of some of the public records that were requested of the South Lake Tahoe city clerk only muddies the waters.

Suzie Alessi, who is quitting effective next Friday, provided Lake Tahoe News on July 25 with some of the documents that had been requested earlier this year. Normally a public agency has 10 days to provide the records. This took months.

Her email stated, “For the record, my cell phone is my personal cell phone and I do not receive a stipend from the city. I do not have a city cell phone as you erroneously reported and am not providing my text messages pursuant to your request.”

Not releasing the records is against state law.

At a public records training on April 30 at which Alessi attended attorney Leah Castella of Burke, Williams and Sorensen showed a slide that stated, “The California Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that information related to the public’s business retained on private phones, computers and other personal devices and accounts of public employees and officials is a public record.”

In other words, doing public, aka city business, on a personal phone regardless of a stipend is a matter of public record.

Interim City Attorney Nira Doherty, who works for that same law firm, agrees.

“You will receive all public records which are responsive to your request. I anticipate you will receive them (Friday), and if not, you will receive them within 10 days,” Doherty told LTN.

Lake Tahoe News has been speaking with an attorney about suing to get the records, which the city is aware of. If LTN were to prevail in court, the city would have to pay LTN’s legal costs.

While Alessi has powers as an elected official that she would not have if she were a city employee, she is not above the law.

Alessi’s email went on to say, “There are no text messages that were retrieved from Tracy Franklin cell phones.”

Tracy Franklin, aka Tracy Sheldon, is the public information officer for the city. Alessi is saying that between August 2017 and April 2018 the woman whose job it is is to communicate with everyone has no text messages. That is not true because this reporter has texts from her during that time period.

It is not known why Alessi is protecting Sheldon. The deletion of texts raises more questions.

Sheldon was called out in an LTN column this week. On Lake Tahoe News’ Facebook page she wrote, “You have just earned yourself a lawsuit Ms. Reed. You can’t publish false information.”

There was nothing false in the column. As the spokeswoman for the city, her words are supposed to reflect the sentiment of the city.

Mayor Wendy David emailed LTN to say, “Tracy Sheldon’s comments do not reflect the position of the city or that of the City Council.”

However, Sheldon’s boss, interim City Manager Dirk Brazil, has been silent as to what his thoughts are about Sheldon’s comment or Alessi’s lack of transparency. So it’s not known if Sheldon went rogue with her threat of legal action.

The texts Alessi released from David and Councilman Austin Sass’s were rather benign because most were redacted.

“I redacted information in the text messages that were provided to me. Text messages were extracted from cell phones by the police department. On city-issued phones, I only redact information which is privileged, i.e. information that implicates privacy rights, attorney-client privilege, etc. On personal devices, I redact information which is privileged and which is unrelated to city business,” Doherty explained.

However, it was Alessi who first had access to the documents. The attorney didn’t see them until after Alessi had read through them, so it’s not known what may have been removed by the clerk.

Most of Sass’s texts were between whoever was city manager at the time, with most having been redacted. A few were to his wife and some to his ski buddies.

The only slightly interesting one was from former City Manager Nancy Kerry to Sass on Feb. 5 saying, “I was calling to let you know Bob Hassett wants to call you re Cody [Bass] (space) I sent him your contact info (space) He is concerned about councils [sic] possible position re Cody /mj license.”

The few texts of David’s left intact were not interesting.

Alessi did not answer why it took her so long to release so little.

When the remainder of the documents are released that may shed some light on why she has been stalling.

Each of the council members was asked what they thought about Alessi’s refusal to release her own texts. Only Councilmembers Tom Davis and Brooke Laine responded.

Laine told LTN, “I am very disappointed that the city clerk has failed to fulfill this public records request, as required by law. This situation marks an unfortunate way to end an otherwise honorable career.”

Davis told LTN, “I’ve known Suzie for many, many years and she has had a great career. I don’t know what happened in the last couple months about the public records. I told her it was embarrassing to the city. Then she gave you partial stuff. I’m frustrated with her. It’s not just you, but the public has a right to know.”


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Comments (10)
  1. Carl Ribaudo says - Posted: July 27, 2018

    The city council should direct the City Attorney to take appropriate action to fulfill the law or refer it to the District Attorney. If the council chooses to let it slide it would be a failure to fulfill their job and should be held accountable in November. Again another reason to not trust this city council.

  2. Wake Up Tahoe says - Posted: July 27, 2018

    Three city councilmembers already spoke, rather their silence spoke for them. By saying and doing nothing they have supported the actions of the clerk. From the reporting LTN has done on this topic for months, there has been plenty of opportunity for a majority of council to do or say something. They could do as suggested and direct the City Attorney take legal action – why haven’t they prior to now? As reported, this has been going on for months, they should have stood on the right side of the law and ethics. Instead, watch them give her some kind of proclamation thanking her for her service rather than taking the opportunity to stand up for the public’s legal RIGHT to information.

  3. Vote 'em out says - Posted: July 27, 2018

    Clear and compelling evidence why the position should not be elected, put it to the voters! And change the pay! $100,000 a year is ridiculous for an elected position.

  4. No Fan of Norma says - Posted: July 27, 2018

    The City’s press relations officer attempts to intimidate the free press. Kind of reminds me of my youth and Richard Nixon.

  5. Diana Hamilton says - Posted: July 28, 2018

    Free press, Kae! Can you put off retirement?

    Several of us requested information from Ms. Alessi regarding the after hours party that was held at Bijou Park during SnowGlobe in violation of their agreement. We were denied that info as it was going to be included in “the packet” to Council, which they ignored.

    This community needs you, Kae, to keep bringing these things to our attention. The Almost Daily is certainly not going to.

  6. Mike says - Posted: July 28, 2018

    As a South Lake Tahoe taxpayer I do not appreciate the city’s public information officer making such offensive and objectionable comments to the press. She is paid plenty by taxpayers to represent the city responsibly and respectfully, not threaten the press with a lawsuit.

  7. Wag the Dog says - Posted: July 29, 2018

    Kae, or perhaps, hey public, how can the City, the public information official or the city clerk or all of the above get away with outiright lying about this? Actually withholding the records ? The public information DOES speak for the city, isn’t that the point of the job? I know she hates the city she says so regularly to more than a few people and she texts people, I have texts from her myself. So if we know there are text messages, wouldn’t it be breaking some law for her to not turn them over? If the clerk is breaking a law, the council must have some authority to turn the actions of the clerk over to the DA ? The whole council should be speaking out not just two of them. What has happened to our city that they are looking the other way? This is outrageous conduct.

  8. T.J. Hooker says - Posted: July 29, 2018

    Council needs to direct their City Attorney to initiate legal proceedings against City Clerk Suzie Alessi and Lake Tahoe News should file suit against the City of SLT for failing to comply with the California Public Records Act. This is a test of leadership for Interim City Manager Dirk Brazil. His silence on this matter is sending a pretty clear message that he is not the person Council should allow to continue to serve as interim CM or appoint as permanent CM.

  9. Ethics above all else says - Posted: July 29, 2018

    Everyone should write the DA, now. The city is continuing to devolve into a mess. Where is leadership? This is not a complicated issue. If there is no leadership on a simple issue, no wonder they can’t get the tough ones right. Without LTN, you have the Tribune showering praise on someone breaking the law. Whet? No journalistic integrity over there.

    Leadership doesn’t require a title. But when you have the title, and you willingly stay silent on something so blatantly egregious, or worse, do nothing, look the other way, you are equally responsible. The PIO for any organization represents it, how could the Mayor say otherwise?

    The city has lost all credibility. This is an excellent example of what not to do when confronted with a choice between ethics and power. Choose ethics.

  10. Patrick Jarrett says - Posted: July 29, 2018

    To the citizens of the city of South Lake Tahoe…..
    This kind of behavior is exactly what should be expected when the city council is filled with people who are serving the big money interests and their own personal whims and fancies. The city council is not there for the citizens, only for themselves. I don’t mean all of them, but they know who I’m talking about. The citizens concerns only become their priority when they either agree or conflict with their own agendas, and then the councilmembers act on their own interests, not for the good of the community. Abnd for all those people that don’t vote, saying “It’s not my fault.”, yes it is your fault, Get out there and vote, or register as an absentee. Then, you can take your time, fill out and mail in your ballot. But if we all VOTE, Then we can institute change. I’m going to stick my neck out and run for city council, and if people want change, lets vote for it. Otherwise, you can sit at home doing nothing and complaining.