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The Personal Is Political

Council considers resolution on private e-mails

By Wells Dunbar, Fri., April 8, 2011

A resolution addressing "the transaction of city business on personal accounts and personal communication devices" comes to City Council for approval today (Thurs­day, April 7). As a result of Travis County Attorney David Esca­milla's investigation into whether council has been skirting Open Meetings Act rules by meeting informally in nonquorum numbers, attention has turned to whether city business has been discussed on private accounts. Laura Morrison and Bill Spelman have each released a smattering of largely inconsequential messages sent on private accounts. The resolution states, "City accounts shall be used to conduct city business," and should circumstance dictate that an official or city employee use a noncity account, the resolution mandates that the message be forwarded to city servers as public. The policy does not waive any privacy exceptions such as attorney-client privilege, neither does it apply retroactively. It applies to "all communications occurring immediately after the adoption of this resolution," but doesn't exactly specify to whom it applies. While it is assumed that City Council and senior management are included, attorney Jim Cousar has cautioned council that such a system could become "difficult, expensive, and unworkable" if cast too wide (for instance, encompassing board and commission volunteers, most of whom don't have city email accounts).

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