By Miriam Raftery
March 2, 2017 (San Diego) – State or local officials who discuss public business on their private email accounts or phone text messages must turn those communications over when asked under a Public Records Act request, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously today.
Some state and local officials have sought to avoid scrutiny by the press or public through use of private email accounts, such as former Secretary of State Clinton utilized at the federal level.
While certain officials have tried to claim a need for privacy to discuss sensitive matters or voice unpopular viewpoints, open government advocates have argued successfully that such actions amount to evading public disclosure required under state law.
Following lower court cases, many jurisdictions have already taken action to advise officials to communicate only through official channels on government business. Others have warned officials that use of private email could subject such communications to public disclosure. Still others are now scrambling to address the matter.
The Alpine Community Planning Group addressed the issue several years ago, says George Barnett, a member of the ACPG. He says the planning group asked County Counsel about use of private emails following training on how to avoid conflict of interest issues. County Counsel advised that “of course” use of personal email accounted by elected persons discussing public issues with peers would be considered public records, Barnett recalls.
“Counsel said that using personal addresses and accounts as a convenience is acceptable, as long as records are maintained. Since then, our planning group has setup a Google Group email account through which all correspondence is recorded for record, whether the email originates from a personal address or not.”
The Grossmont Healthcare District Board’s agenda for its March 6th meeting includes a report from the Chief Executive Officer on initial review of the California Supreme Court opinion on private cell phones and e-mails in the case, City of San Jose v. Superior Court.