While talk of private email servers was popular during the 2016 presidential election, here in our local communities, elected and appointed officials are also subject to “Sunshine Laws” such as the Open Public Records Act in New Jersey (OPRA).
Because many small communities may not even offer their elected officials government email accounts or server access, this presents a challenge. Similarly, where officials use their personal accounts or those used for their outside employment to interact with other officials and their constituents, they are prone to violating OPRA and other Sunshine Laws. As I’ve always advised my clients, it is the content of the message that controls – not the method or email account type.
Recent decisions have addressed the issue of Gmail, Yahoo and private accounts being used to conduct local government business, finding that laws like OPRA need to be amended to reflect and achieve their intent; also holding that content, along with intent, should be the deciding factors when it comes to determining whether Sunshine Laws were violated.
You can read more on this topic in the latest edition of the ABA Journal.
BezichLaw is experienced in working with state and local officials to improve transparency and secure digital information. If you’re an elected or appointed official, or a citizen with concerns about the maintenance of and access to your local government records, contact us to learn more.