Washing hands of e-mail
Glasscock delegates processing some electronic public records to individual elected officials
By Sheryl Marsh
Morgan County Commission Chairman John Glasscock was successful in delegating his duties of processing public records requests, but in doing so he became the odd man out.
Full-time chairmen in Limestone, Madison and Calhoun counties are in control of all records in their offices and data processing.
The officials say they have policies that are public-friendly.
A policy that Glasscock broke a tie to pass two weeks ago gave individual elected officials control over e-mails they have on the main server in the basement of the courthouse.
The policy comes weeks after the commission majority ended a probe of inappropriate e-mails. The investigation started after an e-mail of naked women surfaced that Glasscock received and forwarded to others.
Initially, commissioners said they wanted a policy established to govern county e-mail use, although the county has such a policy. That later changed to creating a policy to manage public review of electronic records.
Although he sided with Commissioners Ken Livingston and Jeff Clark to break the tie to adopt the policy, Glasscock said he was following the commission’s wishes. Commissioners Kevin Murphy and Stacy George voted no.
When asked Thursday if he intends to shift his duties to the other elected officials, including the sheriff, Glasscock said, “I don’t think I have the knowledge to decide what should be released. I’d have to look at every one of the e-mails, and then I might see something confidential.”
The policy Glasscock was instrumental in adopting puts officeholders in charge of their electronic messages.
Officials in Madison, Limestone and Calhoun counties are in synch on how they handle releasing electronic and written records for public view.
Limestone County Commission Chairman David Seibert said the policy there was recently revised, but he remains in charge of public records kept in his office and computer records in data processing.
“We haven’t had one of these type requests, but the buck stops here,” said Seibert. “We would centrally confer with our IT (data processing) to retrieve whatever we need to provide someone the records.”
Seibert said Limestone started revising its policy to govern e-mail use after the e-mail scandal broke in Morgan County.
Madison County Administrator Howard Baites, who works under the chairman, said the commission office is in charge of records kept in that office and of computer records in data processing.
“We would turn it over to the data processing department and they would print out whatever information the person is asking for,” Baites explained.
He said electronic records are labeled as to sensitivity and there are safeguards in place to make sure that records of the sheriff’s office regarding matters such as investigations are concealed.
Baites said the chairman and commission office employees are not in charge of records kept in other elected officials’ offices.
Records for such things as travel expenses and other expenditures of those offices are kept in the commission office. The chairman is in charge of data processing, Baites said.
Baites said the county’s personnel manual has guidelines for cellular phone and e-mail use.
Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner said the chairman is in charge of all the written records kept in the commission office there and electronic records in data processing. Joiner said the commission office makes terminals available for citizens to view public records.
“We pretty well prescribe to the tune that it (e-mail) is a public record,” said Joiner. “We have had court cases where e-mails became a crucial part. As a matter of fact, we probably won a case because of an e-mail.”
Joiner said if a citizen makes the request with the data processing office, the employee will forward it to him.
Like Madison and Limestone officials, Joiner said he would make sure that the electronic records are not exempt before releasing them for public view.
Also, he said, other elected officials like the sheriff and probate judge are in charge of the records in their respective offices, but not of those in the commission office or in data processing.
In addition to Glasscock, every employee in his office has a legal obligation to know how to handle public records requests.
State law defines a public official as “public employees of all counties and municipalities and all persons occupying positions within state government.” In addition, the legal definition encompasses “any person who is paid in whole or in part by state, county or municipal funds.”
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