E-mail contents determine whether records are public

A special Kansas Judicial Council will study whether a loophole in the state's Open Records Act, that currently allows public officials to secretly use their private E-mail accounts to conduct official business, should be closed.

The loophole, of course, should be closed.

The study, requested by Kansas Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, was prompted by reporting in The Wichita Eagle newspaper about Gov. Sam Brownback’s use of his private E-mail account to conduct official business with his budget director, Shawn Sullivan, it was reported.

The special Judicial Council is expected to make a policy recommendation to the Kansas State Legislature by the next session.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in an April opinion that E-mails from the private E-mail accounts of government officials should not fall under the Kansas Open Record Act.

AG Schmidt later recommended how the State Legislature could close the loophole for official business communication from private E-mail accounts by elected officials.

Schmidt, who has a strong history of supporing Open Meetings and Open Records laws in the state, both as AG and as a state legislator, should re-examine the issue.

The Judicial Council will include Sen. King, House Vice President John Barker (R-Abilene), Kansas Supreme Court Justice Marla Luckert and Wichita attorney Stephen Robison.

Meetings are set for Aug. 7, Sept. 11,Oct. 2 and Nov. 13 on the subject.

Representatives from the Kansas Press Association and others have been asked to provide input.

It is not reasonable, and it is not a good government practice, in my opinion, to allow elected officials to use their personal E-mail accounts to conduct the public's business in secrecy.

It does not matter whether an elected official uses their personal computer or a government-issued computer to send E-mails regarding public business. It is the content of the correspondence that matters, not the vehicle by which the communication was accomplished.

In the previous generation, this kind of weak argument for secrecy, would have been made trying to distinguish between an elected official's personal stationary and letterhead vs. their government one that included their government title and government seal at the top. It didn't matter then, and it does not matter now.

Elected office requires certain responsibilities of the office holder, the most important of which is being accountable to constituents.

When it comes to the people's business, there is really no such thing as private E-mails for elected officials. They should be prepared and ready to share all or any information communicated regarding their position.

Morever, elected officials should only use their government business E-mails to talk about government business. That way, if the government E-mails need to be reviewed by others, that can easily be accomplished.

Any time an elected official uses their personal computer and personal E-mail account to conduct official business, that should be a red flag for the public.

For the public's good, in my view, it should simply be the law of the land that personal computers and personal E-mail accounts should not be used to conduct official business. 

The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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