I confess. I use the Maryland Public Information Act to learn as much as I can about how the County Government operates. It is what the
Public Information Act (PIA) was created for; provide insight about our
government, a process of open government which I am dedicated to.
In the course of making PIA requests I have asked for e-mails both sent to the Commissioners and from the Commissioners to others. One
Commissioner in particular has taken umbrage at those requests, Richard Rothschild. Recently, he went about convincing his fellow Commissioners that the names and e mail addresses on the e mails be redacted, or struck out by using a heavy black marker so that they have virtually no informational value.
The Commissioners voted to do this against the advice of their own County Attorney who opined that he thought it illegal to do so. By
voting to redact this information they also reached a new low in obstructing open, transparent government by actually stating that they didn’t care if it was illegal; that any citizen who didn’t like what they were doing could sue them for legal relief.
In triple play of convoluted actions the Commissioners stated that they were doing this so that people were not wary of communicating with them by e mail, thus giving others access to their name and e address but there is no inherent right to privacy when one communicates with any government official using e mail or regular mail. If I use the PIA to obtain e mails it is to see what is being communicated from one party to another and what it is about; it is not to obtain e mail addresses so I can use them to solicit business or send the addresses my personal political messages. Commissioner Rothschild certainly didn’t hesitate to give my e mail address to everyone on his e mail address list when he objected to my PIA inquiry. I just happen to have a copy of the e mail in which he did precisely that and the County Attorney informed me at that time that I had no right to expect privacy when using the PIA.
The Commissioners also maligned the Attorney General of Maryland when Rothschild publically stated last week that he thought legal opinions sought from the Attorney General would be politically skewed because Attorney General Gansler is “from the hostile political party”. This disparaging remark insults the Office of the Attorney General and the professional staff working there. The Attorney General is sworn by oath to uphold the law and unbiased opinions are a legal requirement of that office.
The third step they have taken further down this slippery slope is by defying their own attorney’s legal opinion. They will now be ordering someone on their staff, perhaps even the County Attorney himself, to perform what they are knowingly aware of as an illegal act. That’s some model the Commissioners are offering up to the public. Children and adults alike should take note of how their local elected officials scoff at the law.
I will continue to make Public Information Act related requests of the County and no doubt some will be for e mails of staff and the Commissioners. The Commissioner’s attempt to make those e mails a mystery by hiding who it is they are communicating with won’t deter me and I hope that the Attorney General takes note of their decision and considers what the implications are from it.