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Public e-mail access examined

By Staff
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
How to make records filed on computer hard drives and e-mail servers available to the public is the latest chapter in the communications controversy that has embroiled the Morgan County Commission.
The subject dominated discussion for more than an hour at the commission’s Jan. 25 meeting. While no resolution was reached, commissioners agreed e-mail sent or received on a county computer is subject to the Alabama Open Records Act. Commissioners said they should be the body to determine what is sensitive and should not be turned over to the public.
County Attorney Bill Shinn presented what he described as a third rough draft of a proposed procedures policy for responding to requests to inspect and copy Morgan County e-mail. He reviewed the proposed policy sentence by sentence and paused along the way to take input from the commissioners as well as members of the audience.
The second section specifies anyone seeking permission to review e-mail sent to or from a Morgan county computer should make the request in writing and, if possible, identify the e-mail to be reviewed. The elected official or county employee directly affected would be notified of the request and within two working days should review each e-mail requested and designate to the IT manager the e-mails which are required to be disclosed to the public in accordance with the Open Records Act. Subject to any charges due, the e-mails would then be printed and delivered to the requestor. A list of any e-mails requested believed to be exempt from disclosure would be made and delivered to the requester.
Shinn said he purposefully omitted the inclusion of charges in the draft because he didn’t know was a reasonable amount.
The proposal also provided a procedure for the requester to challenge any decision exempting an e-mail from disclosure.
District 4 Commissioner Stacy George, who is seeking a court order to allow him to view a disc containing e-mails lifted from county computers, suggested the Data Processing Department set up an e-mail viewing station for public use.
Board of Registrars chairperson Adonis Bailey questioned whether or not the law was violated during the recent e-mail investigation when voters’ records were lifted from computer hard drive in her department.
District 3 Commissioner Kevin Murphy said he contacted the Alabama Bureau of Investigation several days earlier and requested investigators to take a look at the Morgan County e-mail investigation.
Chairman John Glasscock suggested commissioners pass on any ideas they may have on a public records access policy to Attorney Shinn.
It was agreed that a seminar on public records should be set up for elected and appointment officials and their employees.
The commission acted on other matters as follows:

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