State’s Keeper of Public Records Gives him Ten Days to Comply
What is he Hiding?
By Josh Resnek
The mayor has been ordered by the state’s keeper of public records to turn over all his private e-mails which relate to city business.
Speculation abounds about who and what exactly the mayor has been communicating with using his private e=mail doing the city’s business.
His unwillingness to turn over his private e-mails used for city business has led to speculation that he may have something to hide.
Under federal and state law, it is illegal for the mayor or for any elected public official to use their private e-mail to conduct city business.
Setting off this action was a request from the regional media outlet MassLive.com for the mayor’s private e-mails.
The city failed to provide MassLive.com with the private-mails. MassLive appealed to the state.
A state supervisor of records told Everett officials that the mayor and
several city councilors using private emails for government business must turn over those records to the City Clerk Office as they are public records.
The mayor and the city have ten days to comply.
City Clerk Sergio Cornelio refused the request, asserting he does not possess the private e-mails, and therefor he cannot turn them over.
However, the law is precise about the issue.
“It is unclear why the City cannot retrieve the records responsive to Ms. Solis’ request from the City Council members,” the letter states. “The City is advised that the duty to comply with requests for records extends to those records that exist and are in the possession, custody, or control of the custodian of records at the time of the request,” the state supervisor or records wrote
The supervisor’s ruling, following an appeal from MassLive seeking emails from Everett officials, states that government-related emails, on private or public accounts, are still considered “public records” that should be maintained by the city and subject to public records laws.
The e-mail request was filed by a reporter for the news gathering organization Masslive.com, Steph Solis.
When their demands were not met by the city, they appealed.
Emails sent and received by government officials are considered public records under state and federal law. The laws are designed to provide transparency so the public can see how officials are making decisions that affect taxpayer money, public safety and the wellbeing of their communities.
“We have the public records law to give the public, citizens a better understanding of how government does its job,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “If those emails pertain to government business, then the public should have access to them so they know what’s being done on their behalf,” as reported by Solis on the MassLive.com website.
MassLive requested emails from DeMaria and the city council members in late May following the announcement of talks between Wynn Resorts, which owns Encore Boston Harbor, and MGM Resorts to sell the $2.6 billion Everett casino.
Everett City Clerk Cornelio denied a public records request seeking emails filed by MassLive at that time. When asked about the response, Cornelio said that the office did not have emails belonging to the mayor and most city councilors because they “all use their personal emails which are not on the City server” despite having city emails set up.
No one in the city government responded to requests for information from the Leader Herald.
In the state’s response letter, which is published in this edition of the Leader Herald, supervisor Rebecca Murray cited a 2009 case, Mechling v. City of Monroe, as an example of a court deeming a public employee’s personal emails that involve government business public records.
Per the public records law, public records created outside the municipal offices must be transferred and stored in the municipal building on a regular basis.
Murray ordered the city to collect and store the relevant records and to respond to MassLive’s requests for relevant emails.
Cornelio did not immediately respond to an email asking how the city will respond to the supervisor’s letter.
NEFAC’s Silverman said it’s important for the public to understand the importance of the public having access to government operations, even those on private computers.
“Without that responsibility and that obligation being put on the department,” he said, “then public officials can discuss whatever they want when it comes to the public’s business on a private email account without any oversight or public scrutiny.”