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Carroll County Times Challenges Commissioner's Policy to Redact Email Addresses

The State's Attorney General's Office told the board of Carroll County Commissioners in late December that it cannot unilaterally redact email addresses from Public Information Act requests.

Following a recent decision by the State’s Attorney General’s Office stating that local governments should not unilaterally redact email addresses from Public Information Act (PIA) requests, the Carroll County Times made a request for "all email distribution lists from Carroll County commissioners." 

According to Carroll County Attorney Timothy Burke, the county received the Times' PIA request on Feb. 12. The county has 30 days to respond to the request. Maryland’s Public Information Act gives the public the right to access government records without unnecessary cost and delay, according to the attorney general's office.

In a December 2011 board of Carroll County commissioners meeting, the board unanimously voted to redact email addresses from PIA requests, citing security concerns. The board asked the State's Attorney General's Office to weigh in on its decision.

The State's Attorney General's Office returned its opinion to the Board of Carroll County Commissioners in late December 2012 concluding that email addresses should not be unilaterally redacted from PIA requests. However, the attorney general's 16-page opinion also noted that there are some scenarios where it is appropriate for email addresses to be redacted.

In Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners concluded that the request from the Times was vague and therefore difficult to comply with. There were differing opinions on whether “all email distribution lists” refers to all names in a contact list, or all emails from any communication with the commissioners, or lists that have been created specifically to send out correspondence such as a newsletter.

“What they're really doing is they're [Carroll County Times] testing the law with this," Rothschild said. 

According to Burke, if the county does not comply with the PIA request, the county must then petition the court to get a ruling on its decision to withhold the information. 

Commissioner Robin Frazier pointed out that there is a bill being considered in Annapolis that would allow for the removal of email addresses from PIA requests. 

Burke laid out several options for the commissioners. He said the county could ask for clarification from the Times on exactly what information they want. Or, Burk said, the board could ask the Times to wait until state legislation is voted on. 

Commissioner Richard Rothschild commented that maybe the board should just go to the court to get a determination since the request is not cluttered by any other controversial issues.

"We're gonna have to reckon with this. This is a very simple request," Rothschild said. "There are no other peripheral issues involved here ... maybe we should go ahead and test it. Let's take it to the Circuit Court and let one of our judges decide. It's not going to get any easier than this, there's nothing else associated with this other than 'give me all your emails'."

Commissioner Haven Shoemaker said he would rather wait for statutory change than take a gamble with going to court. Rothschild said it could take months for the bill to be dealt with in state legislature. 

The board directed Burke to ask the Times for clarification on their PIA request and to see if the Times is willing to hold the PIA request until the state makes a decision on the bill dealing with this issue.

Related Articles:

  • Attorney General to Carroll County: Email Addresses Can't Be Unilaterally Redacted
  • New Blog: How Private Are Your Emails?
  • Blogger: Slamming the Door Shut on Open Governance

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David J Iacono February 22, 2013 at 03:54 PM
Let's face it, this do nothing Board of Commissioners is the worst we have seen in Carroll County. Their tenure in office has accomplished nothing for the voters and has actually cost taxpayers unnecessary funds for frivolous activities like Robin Frazier's exhorbitant travel claims and bogus climate change summits that enriched those in Baltimore County. In 2014, let's deep six this Board and elect a responsible board that wants to govern instead of promote their extreme right-wing tea bagger ideology in Carroll County.
Kym Byrnes (Editor) February 22, 2013 at 04:31 PM
Just FYI, here is Senator Getty's bill to keep email addresses out of PIA requests. The bill suggests that email address should not be public record. http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2013RS/bills/sb/sb0880f.pdf
Ross Dangel February 22, 2013 at 05:13 PM
Thanks Kym. So reading between the lines, we have 5 Commissioners (2 in particular) who are not in favor of open government and would like to continue to conduct the public's business in secrecy. They are willing to instruct our delegation to waste time on supporting legislation that promotes now illegal secrecy in government in Annapolis. And when this fails, which it of course will, because it's completely stupid, Rothschild & Frazier want to invest more taxpayer's money in a lawsuit to allow them to keep secrets from the public. I thought the Tea Party was all about freedom...promoting secrecy sounds like more the thing a fascist government would support. Glad to hear the Times is challenging them...again!
Robin Nicole February 22, 2013 at 05:33 PM
What is the Carroll County Times going to do with this information once they receive it? THAT'S what I'm curious about.
Buck Harmon February 22, 2013 at 07:01 PM
The Commissioners should provide the Times with the information that is sought within 30 days, as the law requires.. .Because they know that they are intentionally breaking the law, a higher degree of accountability should be sought for non compliance. Intentionally manipulating the law with false or wrong denial should also warrant an internal investigation of those who choose to break the law.
JoeEldersburg February 22, 2013 at 08:56 PM
I agree Buck. Plainly, they seem to be making a mountain out of a molehill. If they have nothing to hide and aren't really doing anything wrong, why all this cloak & dagger stuff? Save us the sanctimonious crap about privacy concerns and protecting citizens from cyber criminals, it's their butts they are worried about and we all know it!...Are they hiding illegal activities like using their public offices and staff for personal campaign and fund-raising activities or maybe using official government and county resources to organize private Tea Party or other neo-Nazi political activities...nah, not these Commissioners! :) As the old saying goes, "where there is smoke, there is fire". If they have nothing to hide, why all the drama? Now lots more people may be interested in what's in those emails and exactly who they are going to. I think it's indeed a public concern if a Commissioner is abusing the public trust by using their office for personal or political gain. They took an oath and have a responsibility to protect Carroll's interests, not play e-mail footsie with a bunch of national Tea Party nuts. The law is pretty clear on this subject, even in Carroll County when you know the judge.
Sille February 23, 2013 at 03:34 AM
I would hope the CCT's pursues this issue. The law clearly states that this information is to be made public. Also, if a denial to provide the information is the response from the County to the requestor, the County is to take the reason for the denial to the State's Attorney's office for approval. I don't believe the County has ever followed the law and asked the State's Attorney to validate their denial to provide the information.
Artemus Gordon February 23, 2013 at 09:12 PM
If county e=mail resources are being used, we have a right to see anyone to whom information is being sent (newsletter should be a matter of public record. The"chilling effect" would be if they are able to conceal this onformation. Rothschild and Frazier complained about the meetings that Howard and Shoemaker are conducting throughout the county which were advertised in the paper and on the county website) but resist full disclosure on their contacts. Commissioners should be able to travel to any part of the county to hear citizen viewpoints. That is why they need to run county-wide and not district-wide. We are reaping the bitter harvest of that bad decision by our state delegation. Some full disclosure on how that was orchestrated would be interesting to see some of the county interests that were involved in disregarding the county-drawn map by the voters and doing what they wanted. I heard a radio ad this morning aqbount the institute on the constitution that conducted the classes for county employees (thank goodness they weren't mandatory). They are conducting classes in the near future and urged you to bring your pastors along. Whichever persons who pushed the idea of having classes on the constitution and picking this institute (instead of a college or law school) to conduct this class (still should not have been mandatory) reveal why we need to know e-mail information done with county reonsources and for county business. Artemus Gordon
Wearedoomedcc February 23, 2013 at 09:16 PM
If email address should not be made public, then neither should home or work addresses...or they should go one step further with their crazieness and have all the information on the SDAT website redacted.
Wearedoomedcc February 23, 2013 at 09:16 PM
If email address should not be made public, then neither should home or work addresses...or they should go one step further with their crazieness and have all the information on the SDAT website redacted.
Judith M. Smith February 25, 2013 at 05:53 PM
People should take the time to go back to EyeonCarroll to see why this whole redacting issue was started...Carroll County staff was using county resources and time to send a newsletter that was to selected people for political purposes...Check it out
Ross Dangel February 26, 2013 at 09:04 PM
@Artemus-The Commissioner district maps is an old dead issue, but most definitely was something that was 100% political and engineered to elect exactly the kind of extreme board of Commissioners we now have. Specifically, the Wheatley map that was the choice of the Republican Central Committee was designed to unseat Commissioners Perry Jones & Julia Gouge, who weren't beholden to real estate interests and were just too moderate for the folks in the RCC. Property Rights Senator, Larry Haines never wanted 5 Commissioners, but when it got through "accidentally", the law was purposely a mess and the only choice was to ignore voters and rig the election districts to keep the power base in Westminster. The non-partisan (Option 2) map chosen by the bi-partisan districting Commission and overwhelmingly supported by all of the municipalities, would have kept Gouge in her natural district and not put Jones on an island with Union Bridge at the northern tip of his district. It would have also given more representation to a rising S. Carroll who carries the tax base. Ironically, now Senator Joe Getty's lawsuit killed map Option 2 that the courts ordered, but years later the delegation successfully enacted their rigged map on a closed door vote, so that's what we have now. It's really no different than what O'Malley and the Democrats did to Rep. Roscoe Bartlett with their ridiculous re-districting. Absolute power corrupts absolutely!
Bonnie Grady February 28, 2013 at 10:50 PM
Actually, the Commissioners would have to take it to the Circuit Court, not the State's Attorney. And the burden of proof is on the "custodian of the records" to demonstrate why they should not be released. The Commissioners are dancing around this by pretending to be confused as to the exact meaning of "email lists" as used by the Carroll County Times. They know exactly what it means and they have no intention of releasing any of it. BTW, Kym, do you have copies of those emails that Rothschild provided to Neil Ridgely under a PIA request about a year ago? They demonstrate clearly what is being alleged in these comments: that Rothschild and his assistant Kathy Fuller have been running a national political campaign out of the County Office Building. Those emails serve as absolute proof of that. The public needs to see those. Let me know if you don't have them and I'll provide them for you.
Bonnie Grady February 28, 2013 at 10:54 PM
Can you say "Delegate Donald Elliott, (R) Union Bridge"? He's the one who threw in that shady little change at the last minute. And Haines, Stocksdale, Krebs, et al, went along with it.
Bonnie Grady March 01, 2013 at 02:22 AM
And so now they've done it! The Fighting 59th decided to take their petty, personal, politically motivated fight to court, on your dime, Carroll County! They say they don't have money to fund our schools, they say they don't have money for infrastructure projects, they say they can't support human services programs, but by garsh, they can waste our tax dollars to play their silly little games, all in the name of politics. If the voters of this county are STUPID enough to vote these people back in office next time, or to replace them with new Tea Baggers, then you will once again get the government you deserve!

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