Thursday, January 16, 2014

Gloucester, VA School Officials Respond To Use Of Private Email Accounts

We have several responses from Gloucester County, Virginia School  officials about using private email accounts along with their county supplied email accounts.  We also have the input from Twitching Ted, (I'm not an attorney) Wilmot, Gloucester County attorney, (Court Jester, Yeah we can do that even if the law says no).

  From, ""

I do use an account that I have at my home so I do not have to check multiple accounts and possibly miss someone’s concern. The email account is always subject to FOIA and I am aware of that and will always abide by the rule. Also it is advertised and an account and address that I can be reached and there is nothing being hidden.
Thank you

Randy Burak"

Wait, he uses a personal email account so he does not miss someone's concern?  He has a county supplied email account but does not want to have to check multiple accounts?  Is he telling us that he just ignore's the county supplied email account?  If you try and contact him using that account it will never get answered because he can't be bothered with it?  Or is he telling us a bed time fantasy story hoping we do not question it?  And remember, there is nothing being hidden because he told you so.  Okay there George.  Didn't Bill Clinton tell us he did not have sex with that woman?  What did we learn later?  He had sex with that woman?  

Thank you for your e-mail.

There is nothing in the advisory opinion above that requires a particular type of e-mail account be used in order to comply withFOIA. The opinion defines e-mail as  a medium for correspondence -- essentially, e-mail is the "envelope" for the communication.

E-mails concerning public business are subject to FOIA requests as public records regardless of whether the account is one supplied by a governmental entity or not. This has always been the case and continues to be so. 

The fact that a communication is sent via e-mail is not alone conclusive of whether that e-mail must be accessible to the public under FOIA or retained pursuant to the PRA; one must look at the text and substance of the communication to determine whether it is indeed a public record. … an e-mail relating to public business would be accessible just like any other public record,

Personal e-mails are not subject to FOIA because by their nature they have nothing to do with public business.   OUR NOTE (  Did she really just talk from both sides?  Then why use them in the manner you are?)

The opinion above does state that Public officials and employees should not commingle personal and official e-mails.Private e-mails do not need to be retained; e-mails relating to the transaction of public business do. From an e-mail management perspective, it is probably not a good idea to mix personal and official business in the same e-mail. 

However, this means that in a single e-mail message you should not combine personal information with public business. It is silent as to types of e-mail accounts. 
I do not believe that the use of a gmail account or any other type of account is a violation of FOIA or any other law.

Thank you for your concern.


Kim Hensley
SB Representative, Ware District"

Before we comment let's look at what Twitch sent.

"I assume that the Gloucester County School Board functions within the letter of FOIA. To my knowledge, that is the case. I’m not quite sure what you mean by the “spirit” of the law/FOIA, though I’ve heard that phrase before. I do not know the answer to your question whether “the private email accounts used by school officials and employees [were] included in the search parameters for relevant response information,”, as I do not have the records, did not create them, and did not provide records to you. You may want to check with school officials. Also, just an FYI, I do not favor correspondence via email, perhaps in part for the very concern you mention. So if you would like to correspond with me in the future, you are welcome to do so via U.S. mail. Or, if necessary or appropriate, I would be willing to meet with you in my office. Thank you.

Ted Wilmot "  (If you meet with him, bring a voice recorder).

Now let's see if we can idiot proof exactly what we are talking about so that even those that sit in the Ivory Towers may understand the issues.

If you are assigned a county email account, all county business as it relates to your job should be used and one should not have a second email address being used to also conduct government business.  If you do not wish to have a county supplied email address, you need to opt out and then ask that your own private email address be used and it should be attached to the county server so that should the county Administrator need access to it for any reason, the Administrator would have legal access.  

  The use of both a county email address and a private email address has the appearance of corruption.  If the appearance is there, then you can usually rest assured that the corruption is equally there.  

  To cover this matter in more detail, Keith Hodges uses a gmail email account to conduct state business in place of a state assigned email address.  This is acceptable as he is not hiding anything by using multiple email addresses.  He is straight up front with the use of a private email address in place of a state assigned email address.  There is no appearance of corruption.  

  Using both a county assigned email address and private and in some cases multiple private email addresses in conducting county business is seen as hiding something and we are willing to bet that some of these officials who are using multiple email addresses along with a county assigned email address are up to no good.  This is why you do not do this.  

  The majority of the email addresses that are supposed to be private but have been found being used to conduct government business are the one's we keep publishing as they have county assigned email addresses.  So it is clear that information is probably being hidden from the public as well as other county officials who might have legal reasons to access those accounts.

  The reason there is no law against government officials being able to use private email addresses comes into play like stated above in Keith Hodge's example.  You can opt out of the government assigned email address system, but still need it open and accessible when those above you deem legal need to access such.  Do not mingle both personal email with business email.  If you do, then your personal email should become public record the same as business email by default because you choose to intermingle the two.  Either use your county assigned email address or opt out.  Do not use multiple email addresses.  Is that simple enough?

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