The needler in the haystack.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A New Year's Resolution for Council, Administration

Fellow Plainfielder blogger Maria Pellum gave a reader some clear instructions on filing a successful OPRA request today (see here) and in doing so jogged my mind about a longstanding issue that needs to be addressed: developing a coherent, consistent and compulsory EMAIL POLICY for Plainfield officials and employees.

Maria's post flagged the issue because one of the parties she is discussing is listed with THREE email addresses, none of which is an official '' email address. Anyone who has seen the contact lists for Council members floating around must have noticed that most of the Council does not use official '' email addresses.

The conduct of official government business by email is becoming more and more common, including the City of Plainfield. The same has been acknowledged by the Government Records Council (GRC), which is responsible for enforcing the Open Public Records Act and the Division of Archives and Records Management (DARM), which is responsible for the archiving of public records.

Emails by city employees and elected officials in the execution of their duties constitute public records and must be collected and preserved as with any paper record which qualifies as such.

The use of personal email addresses only makes it more difficult for municipalities to fulfill their responsibilities; that does not, however, excuse them from doing so.

So, having official email addresses and putting policies in place for their use is becoming part of good government practices across the country.

There can be no knock on elected officials -- yet -- for using private email addresses (a number of the Council members do), but come the New Year, I think the Council should formally adopt a policy that Council members will be assigned, and use, a
'' email address for the conduct of all city business. Further, the Council should enunciate a policy that carries over the Sunshine Law requirements to emails: that the number of participants in an email cannot be greater than allowed by law for face-to-face meetings (three, in the case of Plainfield).

Adopting such a policy will allow the City of Plainfield to properly archive the emails as public records and supply them when bona fide OPRA requests are made (exceptions may be made for deliberative and consultative emails, but that concerns their release, not their archiving).

This would be a proactive move on the part of the Council to adopt a policy in line with best practices in other municipalities across the country.

Further, while there has been a noticeable improvement in the use of the '' email addresses in recent months across communications with department heads and city employees (thank you Chris Payne?), there needs to be a clear email policy, stated by the Administration and posted online for public inspection.

Lastly, there is the question of boards, commissions and certain volunteers (as in the Rec Division's 2011 baseball registration, which has a Yahoo mail address on its registration flyer).

Though they are composed of volunteers, they conduct city business and certain of their communications (also increasingly by email) constitute public records, meaning they need to be archived and available when needed. While it may be burdensome to create
'' email addresses for each and every board and commission member, one solution may be to create an official mailbox for every board and commission, to which copies of all applicable emails are cc'ed.

Adopting and publishing clear email communications policies for Plainfield elected officials, employees and boards and commissions will demonstrate full commitment to openness and transparency in the conduct of the public's business.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

It would be nice, but I don't think either branch of the city government is commited to openness and transparency. Nope, they treat us like infants, until either exposed in print, or if there's some sort of political angle they can get some mileage from.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you can answer this what benefits do council members recieve also pay or perks if any I would greatly appreciate any information you can provide

Anonymous said...

Having a email address for all city employees, council members, board and commission members,etc., has been suggested many times so what makes you think your post can get the ball rolling?

Only way to get this done is to back someone into a corner and put in an OPRA request for somone's personal email address that was used for City Correspondence and request all any any email being sent to and from that email account.

I doubt that any movement to use a address will be taken since it has already been requested to move to a address and that has not even been done yet.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't this policy also be adopted by the Council?