E-mails to and from public officials are not private


(12/26/2006)

by Frances Edstrom

I'd like to think that a lot of public employees and elected officials just don't understand that the open meeting and freedom of information laws on the books in this state and in the country apply to e-mail as well.

The public has a right to know what the discussion is among their elected representatives, and it doesn't matter if it is written on paper or sent by e-mail. The general public treats e-mail and other means of Internet communication as though it were protected from the view of others.

But as news story after news story has shown, it isn't. If you blab on your blog that your boss is a jerk and you hate your job, guess what, don't worry about that job any longer, because you will probably get fired. If you compile a hit list, joking or not, and send it over the Internet, you are in big trouble.

I had hoped that the Dist. 861 School Board, which has done so many good things, such as striving to improve the delivery of better schools and curriculum to the students, would not have shown themselves to be quite so ignorant of the freedom of information laws under which they must operate "” even after being warned by Pat Blaisdell, their Human Resources Director.

Board members want to be able to share information and opinions by e-mail without providing a record of that transaction with the public via the act of covering Dist. 861 administration with a copy of that e-mail to be kept in a file. Doing so would facilitate the job of gathering that information when the public asks, as they legally can, for copies. Without these e-mails on file, the taxpayers have to foot the bill, which can be very substantial, for the administration to ferret out the electronic documents requested.

Come on, school board, do the right thing. You are public servants, supposedly with nothing to hide.

F.E.

 

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