by Marion Marks
I believe the “Can of Worms” the Hillary Clinton email server revelation exposed regarding use of non-official email accounts for State Department business emails must be addressed by the local media as it affects our local entities and business correspondence failures. Locally, in my opinion, we have done a very poor job of addressing what the law requires public officials to do.
We have a great starting point, and I believe we must have formal discussion of this topic. Here is a great article for awareness of issues, for those who may not understand the implications of public records.
Most government and board emails I receive from local public officials or entities regarding government business will have one or more parties who private email address is used. In recent public records requests [PRR], and over the last year on too many occasions, I was a party to PRR filings where the board members, government agency representatives and other parties whose records were requested firmly denied the existence of emails, texts or other communication that was clearly subject to the proper requests and specifically known to exist. In my opinion, the denial of the existence of known communications was a legal, if not ethical, violation that remained unpunished or corrected in future communications. The spirit, if not the letter of the law, appeared to be blatantly violated. Not being a lawyer, but an active citizen advocate for transparency, I remain appalled and exasperated by these violations.
The complete disregard of many public officials we entrust with the responsibility of reporting accurately to the public the business of their office is unacceptable. The lack of accountability is systemic, yet we often write it off as too encumbering to require compliance. I believe the refusal to comply is a clear attempt to hide known violations and flaunt the disregard for the law.
Only when citizens demand accountability will we get any meaningful change in bad habits or willful neglect of legal responsibility to maintain communications related to public business. Only by demanding change can we make any change occur. Demand that NO MORE will we accept hiding behind excuses and lies that permit conducting the public’s business without public records being made available. The MPC, library boards, City, Parish, State and national records are the public’s business and if the law requires the use of public email accounts, let’s demand that they be used, made properly secure, archives maintained and provided when the proper requests are filed.
Most public entities are responsible for maintaining all records of communications and the business of the entity. No future public meetings should occur without accepting the demands that archiving of proper documents, communication and channels of communication be in the minutes of notes of the members. The Society of American Archivists certainly have set the bar that all entities could adopt.