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Records Confirm Councilman Leaked Confidential Memo From Personal Email

San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate speaks during a council meeting, Dec. 12...

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate speaks during a council meeting, Dec. 12, 2016.

San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate sent a confidential memo to a lobbyist via an email account linked to his re-election campaign website. The revelation came after Cate's office released unredacted versions of the email exchange to KPBS.

San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate sent a confidential city memo to a lobbyist via an email account linked to his re-election campaign website, according to newly unredacted records obtained by KPBS.

Cate admitted to leaking the memo, written by the City Attorney's Office about the Soccer City initiative, in an Oct. 3 press conference. The councilman's office released the email exchange between Cate and the lobbyist last month, but redacted both men's email addresses "for the protection of private information."

Cate's office had previously refused to confirm the memo was sent from the councilman's private email account. The unredacted emails were released after KPBS disputed the redactions under the California Public Records Act.

Tony Manolatos, a private communications consultant hired by Cate, said the email account, which ends in @chrisjcate.com, was not the councilman's campaign email address.

"It's his personal email account, which the council member uses when he is working remotely, which is what he was doing that day," Manolatos wrote in an emailed statement. "All emails about city business, regardless of the account, are considered public records under the California Public Records Act, which the council member fully supports."

RELATED: Councilman Cate Fighting Subpoenas Over Soccer City Memo Leak

Using campaign or personal email accounts by public officials for government business is not illegal under state or local law. Public officials are often discouraged from doing so, however, because campaign or personal email accounts are more difficult for public records administrators to search.

City employees can access their official city email accounts from personal cell phones and computers.

City Attorney Mara Elliott has called the leak of the memo a crime under the San Diego Ethics Ordinance, which prohibits public officials from disclosing confidential information unless doing so is a necessary function of their job. She has also said the release of the memo undermined the city's position to negotiate the sale or lease of the former Chargers stadium, which the Soccer City initiative seeks to redevelop.

Cate has said he gave the memo to Soccer City lobbyist Craig Benedetto in June to get input in advance of a City Council vote on the initiative. It is expected to appear on the November 2018 ballot.

An investigation into Cate's disclosure of the memo has been referred to the California Attorney General's Office.

Cate is running for re-election next year in District 6, which includes Sorrento Valley, Mira Mesa, Kearny Mesa and Clairemont Mesa East. Four others have so far declared their intention to challenge him.

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