Who’s got mail? Officials and their policies

BY TESSA McLEAN | MAY 12, 2009 7:30 AM

State Board of Regents President David Miles uses Gmail, Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey uses an Avalon account, and Iowa City City Councilor Matt Hayek has his law firm’s address.

Recently, it’s become clear: Sometimes official business doesn’t stay on state e-mail accounts.

Last week, Iowa City City Clerk Marian Karr released 295 pages of e-mail communications among city officials regarding the April 17 firing of then-City Manager Michael Lombardo after local media filed public-records requests.

Some of the correspondence was sent from private accounts.

And after requests for e-mails on state business by the Associated Press, Gov. Chet Culver now uses his state e-mail address for public business. Culver’s lawyer told the AP last week that e-mails from the governor’s private account — which he used during his first two years in office — were public record.

But local officials maintain they can still remain transparent.

Bailey said she uses both her city e-mail address and her personal address, and most times it is easier to give out her personal e-mail address because she’s had it for so long and it is easier to spell.

“If it looks like it should be included in council record, I will forward it on to the city clerk,” Bailey said. “Transparency is very important in the electronic age.”

Councilors are trained on electronic communications, she said, and it is standard policy to forward any e-mail communications among three or more councilors to the city clerk to be included in the public record.

The regents are not issued state e-mail addresses. In an effort to increase transparency with regent communication, former regent President Michael Gartner created a policy in 2005 that stated any e-mail communication among five or more regents will be posted to the board’s website.

In the e-mail, Gartner addressed the issue of e-mail transparency with fellow regents and university presidents.

Still, the submission of e-mail communications are the responsibility of the regent. They are required to submit e-mails to the board’s executive director, who will then review and redact, if necessary, any of the text, according to a regent document. The document states the only redactions will likely be material including personal information and conference call codes.

Gartner said the new policy was also in response to countless open-records requests.

UI officials have emphasized the importance of transparency in the handling of sexual-assault cases and the impending budget cuts.

UI Provost Wallace Loh said he keeps his e-mail communications separate — as well as his work and personal computers — to maintain transparency.

“When I am in the office, I am an employee of the state — I am a state worker, and I only use my university address,” he said.

But if he doesn’t want something to be subject to the open-records law, he said, he then has a face-to-face conversation with the people involved.

“If I was concerned about open-record laws for something I was saying in an e-mail, I would never put it in an e-mail in the first place,” he said.

UI President Sally Mason didn’t return an e-mail last week about how she handles e-mail communication.

And despite state officials preaching an increase in transparency, Iowa is one of 21 states that doesn’t address e-mail as public record. The issue remains up for interpretation.

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