San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s use of private email to skirt public records law is raising questions about how his office handles resident complaints.
A new thread of emails, obtained by San José Spotlight, shows an ex-employee of the mayor’s office—now a consultant—using a Gmail account to handle complaints made by the resident. The mayor himself faces criticism for asking a resident to contact his personal email and vowing to delete records from his government account, as San José Spotlight exclusively reported, resulting in a response from an attorney and free speech advocacy group.
It began when resident Elamurugu Vaiyapuri emailed the mayor’s office to complain about loud trucks at Second Harvest food bank. Instead of getting an official reply from the office, he received a message from a former Liccardo employee—Joel Devalcourt—using his personal email account.
“In my mind, a Gmail account is not the city,” Vaiyapuri told San José Spotlight. “It kind of pissed me off that they couldn’t answer me with an official email.”
The mayor’s spokeswoman Rachel Davis said Devalcourt is a former employee who worked as the mayor’s senior land use advisor for a year and four months. After he left the mayor’s office, Liccardo hired him as a consultant to provide “transitional services” while the department searches for a replacement.
“We are grateful that Joel is willing to consult for the city in this capacity to continue this important work without interruption,” Davis said.
Hiring a former employee into a consultant role immediately after they leave could be a violation of the city’s revolving door policy, which bans ex-city officials from lobbying and influencing city business for two years after leaving their positions.
The mayor’s office, however, said Devalcourt’s contract falls under an exemption which allows for transitional services when the department looks for a replacement.
According to the city, Devalcourt worked for Liccardo from Jan. 12, 2020 to April 30. He earned $99,849 in 2020, according to the city’s compensation records. Devalcourt is getting $80,000 as a contractor for Liccardo. His contract began May 3—three days after he left the mayor’s office—and ends Dec. 31.
Devalcourt declined to comment through the mayor’s office. Davis told San José Spotlight that Devalcourt left because he moved out of state.
Vaiyapuri first emailed the mayor’s office on May 25 to complain about noise from trucks at Second Harvest at all hours. He wanted Liccardo to review the food bank’s business practices and stop the disturbance. Weeks later, an email popped up in Vaiyapuri’s inbox.
In the email, sent from a Gmail account, Devalcourt said he’s a land use and economic development advisor to the mayor. Devalcourt continued to use the private account to respond to Vaiyapuri several times but couldn’t offer more solutions.
Vaiyapuri said he had just learned about San José Spotlight’s reporting on Liccardo’s private email use to bypass public records law. Vaiyapuri said he suspected something similar with Devalcourt’s emails.
“I am resident of the city of San Jose. I reached out to the current mayor’s office email address as available on the city’s website. I get a response from Gmail, that claimed to belong to (Joel Devalcourt),” his email to the city manager reads, asking the city to confirm whether the correspondence was proper and authorized. “This is a concern, especially in light of (the) recent news report.”
Kelly Kline, director of land use and economic development with the mayor’s office, confirmed with Vaiyapuri that Devalcourt is working for the city.
“Like all consultants, he does not have a city-issued e-mail address since he is not a city benefited employee,” she wrote.
Davis, the mayor’s spokeswoman, also defended Devalcourt’s use of private email to conduct public business.
“Joel is providing transitional services and as a consultant, uses his personal equipment and Gmail address, which is appropriate,” Davis said in a statement.
With his complaint not yet resolved, Vaiyapuri said he believes the mayor’s office failed to help him.
“When I came to ask the city, I didn’t want an email from a consultant,” he said. “He went to the wrong department… he was no help at all.”