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You’ve got mail … and it’s public

February 20, 2008

You’ve got mail … and it’s public, February 16, 2008

Town officials who are sending emails beware: your communication strings could end up public one day. This is according to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, an organization that is recommending town officials not use e-mail to communicate with one another. If they chose to do so, town officers are required to be copied on the communication so that is can be stored for the retrieval by any citizen or member of the media. According to Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, any citizen can stroll into a town hall and request to see open meeting notes, including emails exchanged between officials leading up to the meeting discussions.

“This confuses many selectboards around the state, and it’s important for board members to educate themselves about the law,” she said. “There’s no question in the law that an e-mail that is written in the course of agency business is a public record. It doesn’t matter whether or not Selectboard members are e-mailing each other from their home computer or from the town office. If the subject in the e-mail relates to the business of the town, it’s public.”

This, of course, means that public officials need to remember that anything they write, say or text over city forms of communication can be subject to review by unintended individuals. With that said, it’s best to keep in mind that anything being sent over city wires should be professional, accountable and, most of all, prepared for public review.

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