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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007
A Matter of Trust

Arizona Revised Statutes, 39-121.01

"All officers and public bodies shall maintain all records, including records as defined in section 41-1350, reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain an accurate knowledge of their official activities and of any of their activities which are supported by monies from the state or any political subdivision of the state."

Long and short, if you work in the public sector, your actions are open to public scrutiny. This can be taken to certain extremes; a few years ago an angry booster acquired the phone records of University of Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt. Some go to extremes to hide their activity from public scrutiny as with the aides of Eliott Spitzer.

The case below falls between the extreme and the ridiculous.

Casey Newton at the AZ Republic has learned that several Phoenix city members use private e-mail accounts in order to conduct city business. In one case, Doug Lingner, has been doing so for 10 years. The reasons vary either out of fear inadvertently using a public e-mail system for private use or out of convenience. One council member claims to never do public correspondence at all out of such fears saying he rather do it "in person."

As I wonder what Mr. Simplot means by "in person" perhaps somebody should welcome him to the 2oth Century and introduce him to that phone on his desk. I am sure he shies away from using it for the same reason, such as inadvertently using it to order a pizza or some other personal business.

I would like to change what I wrote above.... this is ridiculous.

The problem with such statements is that they are incoherent. Web based e-mail requires, obviously, some sort of Web client access. If the given council members are accessing their private e-mail accounts from city-owned devices, whether a Blackberry or computer, they are still using public resources but now their e-mail records are outside of the public records system.

Second, if council members are having problems either with accessing their e-mail outside of the office or with understanding the intricacies of what constitutes inappropriate use then they should work to get these issues addressed. This is 2007 not 1997 as the fifth-largest city in the country it is not like Phoenix is without resources or staff.

What emerges is either inattention or a systemic policy of incompetence by some of the highest elected officials in Phoenix toward public records law. Here's some suggestions to address the problem:

1) Immediately audit the e-mail system to discern any problems with out-of-office access and have those problems solved.

2) Upon resolution of any the e-mail problems, ban the use of private e-mail accounts by any city official using city-owned access devices. This can be enforced both by policy and by code, blocking access to such e-mail sites at the network/firewall level.

It's quite simple actually- see problem, define problem, solve problem.

That is if the issue of using private e-mail accounts by city council members really is a problem