Friday, September 30, 2016

The IRONY of the Germantown Email Scandal--Blame the Water Bills and the Open Records Request Law

So now, Germantown has its very own email scandal!  

WREG looked into the scandal-- residents were complaining that they were receiving unwanted campaign literature from incumbents sent to their private email addresses. These residents questioned how the candidates obtained their email addresses. They naturally prefer that their email addresses remain private, and were wondering if the candidates used email addresses taken from water bills or "opt in" email notices. 

Here are the two reports.   

Residents Question How Candidates Got Email Addresses 

David Klevan, an incumbent alderman, admits using the water bill email addresses for campaign purposes. He says it is entirely legal, as does the City.  Email addresses, Mr. Klevan and the City maintain, are public records and thus discoverable under the open records request law.

As WREG's Wayne Carter pointed out, the law relied upon is an old one, enacted before emails were commonly used. Citizens interviewed by Mr. Carter say this is an invasion of their privacy.  

Keep in mind also the purpose of the law. The law's intent is to afford citizens the opportunity to scrutinize the conduct of city officials.  This law was never intended for the use of political candidates, particularly incumbents who hold the purse strings over City resources.

It is ironic that the candidates now using this law find themselves in the same category as citizens who are invoking it to uncover questionable practices.   

It is particularly rich that the incumbents in this election are using, for the purpose of remaining entrenched in office, the same law being utilized by citizen whisteblowers whom they have been quick to villify. The incumbents blame these whistleblowers for increased legal expenses. Yet, at the same time, they are using the law to burden citizens with unwanted solicitations for votes. 

Germantown Open Records Requests Costly    

David Klevan's use of the open records law thus puts him in the same category as Sarah Freeman and Jon Thompson. Oh.........and me. I have done a few requests myself; however, I do NOT use the law to obtain email addresses of citizens. 


Is the City really required to hand over its list of email addresses to anyone who wants it? If so, any business could use that list for its own purposes. Do we want that? Our email boxes filled with spam? City officials should not hand this information over unless they are absolutely certain that the law requires it. If the law does in fact require the City to provide email addresses upon request, certainly the law does not mandate that the addresses be in electronic format.

Let us hope the email addresses were provided to the candidates in paper format. Why make incumbents' vote canvassing easy?  I personally have made a number of open records requests and I have yet to receive any information in electronic format.


Mailing Labels

I was taken aback by Patrick Lawton's statement to WREG's Mr. Carter that the candidates (or businesses) could, if they wished, purchase mailing labels containing resident's home addresses. Really? NO! Sorry, but that will not wash. If this is true, then businesses could inundate us with unwanted paper spam. 

The City is not allowed to "make money" on records that are required by the Open Records law. They are limited to recovering the cost of supplying the information, in time and other resources (and the first hour is free). If the City claims to be making money on an activity, then what they are providing is over and above what is required by the Open Records law.    

I am posing a question. Do we want the City to make money by providing our private information out to candidates and businesses?  Again, they would have to be going over and above the requirements of the open records law to make a profit, per the law.

The the citizen's email addresses were transferred in such a way as to make it appear like an official Germantown email

The sentence appearing at the end of Mr. Klevan's emails: 

"You are receiving this email because you have expressed an interest in the City of Germantown."

This sentence reads to me like the standard closing you would expect to see from any email response sent by the City. The statements makes no sense in the context of a campaign email. It made it sound as if we actually requested the email. 

At the very least this gives us the clue that the email address list came from the City. 

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