Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When "Private" Electronic Communication Should Be Considered Public Record

Wireless communication is nearly universal.  When should such communication be considered public record, even when the service and device are not paid for by the taxpayers?

Email addresses with the domain name are available to all 29 City-County Councillors.  A review of the Councillor contact webpage shows, however, that only 7 Councillors use it as their suggested email contact for constituents.   Those would be lone Republican, Bob Lutz, and Democrats Zach Adamson, LeRoy Robinson, Monroe Gray, Maggie Lewis, Frank Mascari, and William Oliver.

Since the taxpayers are providing those email addresses, they are subject to open records laws.  Presumably, the personal, non-governmental email addresses used by the remaining Councillors, as well as the personal accounts of those 7, are off limits to the public.

Just when, though, should Councillor electronic communications be considered open to public perusal?

I would suggest that when an electronic or wireless device is used during a public meeting of the Council or one of its committees, then the transmissions should be considered part of the public record of that meeting.

Some Councillors use laptops, some text, some gather email through their cell phones during public meetings.  The Councillors, by the way, are elected to attend to the public's business at these meetings, and are also paid to do so.  Information conveyed to a Councillor can be personal, but it could easily be anything from testimony, to instructions from 'higher ups' on how to vote, to virtual caucus meetings held simultaneously with the in-person meeting.  Since these communications can weigh into the Councillor's voting decisions, they should be disclosable to the public as such.  That can only mean that they should be open records and comply with open meeting laws, and therefore subject to inquiry by a member of the public.

1 comment:

katzmandu said...

Sarah Palin learned this the hard way when she used her Yahoo account to conduct Alaska State business. It's only a matter of time....