02 February 2010

Public records, you say? (delete) What public records?

San José officials have taken a definite step forward by opening up their personal phones and email accounts to scrutiny. But fear not, my lobbyist friends! They left themselves a tiny loophole just big enough to slip a delete button through.

San Jose City HallSan José's City Council has moved a step toward adopting regulations that require the mayor, the council members, and their staffs to "make messages about public matters that council members send or receive on such personal devices subject to disclosure, just like other official records." This is a real advance for local government, and local public officials elsewhere may be feeling a bit nervous. Personally, I would like to see regulations like this apply to all government officials.

But there's one big loophole that the City Council left for itself:

It does not require them to retain messages sent via a personal e-mail account or device for any length of time.

So, if you're in San José government, and you get an inconvenient text message from a lobbyist promising you a campaign donation in exchange for a particular vote, you can just hit •delete•, and your problems have disappeared. Legally.

The fact that this reform is novel just shows how dire the conditions are at the local level for the public's right to know.

[Edited for clarity.]
blog comments powered by Disqus