City Attorney Lee Roberts has released the following statement:
The Mayor in his statement during the council meeting on Tuesday did not accuse Christie Knowles of having stolen documents from the IDA. It would have been wrong had he done so because there is no available evidence that she did. Instead, the question posed by the mayor was: how did she come into possession of the stolen documents?
Mrs. Knowles’ response is that she received the stolen documents from a “whistleblower.” The whistleblower, according to Mrs. Knowles, is an anonymous individual whose identity is unknown to her. According to her, this anonymous individual may work for the City or possibly the IDA — she does not know. Yet in her statement, Mrs. Knowles contends the anonymous person “had appropriate access to this information and was concerned about the rendering plant.”
If this person was truly unknown to Mrs. Knowles, how would she know how the documents were obtained? The truth is that the totality of the documents in question existed on an IDA computer, to which no one else had appropriate access.
The Mayor and city officials unequivocally deny any suggestion of influence over the police department’s investigation into the stolen documents. The truth is the IDA, not the City, filed a police report with the Gadsden Police Department. The filing of the report is what initiates a criminal investigation. No one within the police department has ever discussed with the Mayor or any other city official any matter concerning its investigation. Likewise, neither the Mayor nor other city officials have involved themselves with the investigation.
Instead, the IDA staff has discussed with the Mayor the details concerning the stolen documents. For example, an IDA staff member reported that while he was working at the IDA office during Thanksgiving holidays, he observed someone remotely controlling the activity on his computer. Within days, we learned that documents contained only on the IDA Director’s computer were now circulating on Mrs. Knowles’ opposition website.
According to Mrs. Knowles’ press release, we are now led to believe that someone remotely accessed the IDA’s system on at least one prior occasion. In her press release, Mrs. Knowles claims to have received the stolen documents a few days before Thanksgiving, not after. If true, the police detectives are likely aware that such occurred, but the City was obviously not aware that multiple criminal acts may have possibly occurred.
Mrs. Knowles’ accusation that the Gadsden Police Department is conducting an unwarranted investigation into the stolen documents simply because the Mayor does not like her opposition to the proposed rendering plant is a bizarre, blatantly untrue and defamatory statement. Moreover, she exhibits a profound misunderstanding about the standards by which the Gadsden Police Department conducts its criminal investigations.
The detectives report to the prosecutor, not the Mayor. Therefore, the Mayor would have no knowledge over what documents, if any, Mrs. Knowles allegedly turned over to the police department.
The Mayor is deeply concerned over the publication of the stolen documents on Mrs. Knowles’ website. First, this is an economic development project brought to Gadsden by the State of Alabama. As such, it is subject to the protections of nondisclosure, which expressly exempt operational and other confidential and proprietary documents from public dissemination. Specifically, Alabama Code Section 41-29-3(b) states that “all information concerning a proposed project seeking an economic development incentive which is provided to any state or local government, agency, department, or other entity seeking an economic development incentive shall be confidential.”
Second, the proposed Pilgrims facility is subject to Food and Drug Administration regulations under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. Elements of the food defense program include, most importantly, a prohibition against the release of documents directly related to the layout and design of the site. See Pub. L. No. 107-188, 116 Stat. 594; also see https://www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents (CPG §110300).
The City remains committed to give this industry, as well as any and all future industries, a fair opportunity for consideration. Unfortunately, Mrs. Knowles’ allegations over lack of transparency are fueled by the reality that the City is following both state and federal laws that mandate confidentiality.
But to be clear, the Mayor has not threatened or attempted to intimidate Mrs. Knowles, despite her bizarre and unfounded claims to the contrary.