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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Public Account + Personal E-mail = Public Record?

If a public employee sends a personal e-mail via his public account, is that message a public record?

That’s the question Hamilton County officials are grappling with, after a county employee was found to be operating a side business using his public e-mail account.

The county attorney appears to be battening down the hatches after that embarrassment and has refused the Chattanooga Times Free Press‘s subsequent request for e-mail records, the newspaper reported over the weekend.

Advocates of transparent government tend to favor disclosure when it comes to e-mail records. The head of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, for example, believes “that the law dealing with e-mails sent to and from public computers shows the Legislature clearly intended for them to be public records,” the paper says.

But officials don’t seem to be in agreement, questioning whether all e-mails including those sent to him are public. They’re suggesting the General Assembly clarify the law.