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Legalities shroud public from council’s email addresses

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Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011 12:00 pm

By Anthony Scott

Killeen Daily Herald

A recent public information request made to the city by the Killeen Daily Herald revealed several Killeen council members use personal email accounts to conduct city business. While the practice is legal, the addresses being used for city business are hidden from the public.

City Attorney Kathy Davis said after receiving the request for the council's personal emails, she went by the Texas Attorney General's ruling and blacked out the non-city email addresses.

"I thought it was silly, so I called them to verify," she said. "The law is a little odd. It says you have to redact personal emails."

The released emails include several hundred pages of communications between elected officials, city staff and members of the public. Official city email accounts were not redacted since the city provides each council member with an account.

The scope of the request was limited to the council's personal emails, where addresses for Mayor Timothy Hancock, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Cosper and Councilmen Kenny Wells and Larry Cole were redacted.

"All of those council members, even though they're conducting city business, it still falls into that category," Davis said. "The problem with the open records and the open meetings act is that you have the attorney general interpretations, which go a lot more in depth. We're looking at 20, 30, 40 years of opinions by the attorney general."

Rules governing email confidentiality can be found in the Texas Government Code, which states a member of the public's email address used to communicate with a governmental body is confidential and not subject to disclosure.

"First of all, they're not communicating as a member of the public, they're communicating as a public official," said Bill Aleshire, a volunteer attorney with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. "The attorney general has consistently ruled that those email addresses, even for official business, can be redacted. I strongly disagree with that."

The government code does not specify that the city should handle a request involving a public official's personal email address differently than it would for private individuals.

"(The law) was intended to prevent having some grandma that decided to write and complain to a city council member from ending up having her email become (public)," Aleshire said. "It was never intended to encourage the conduct of public business between public officials using their personal email accounts and concealing what those email addresses are."

Contact Anthony Scott at ascott@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7568.

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