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Homer city council prepares to treat emails as public record, rewriting pre-Internet city code

Posted: June 18, 2011 - 10:00pm

HOMER — The Homer city council has reviewed the city’s policy on its own electronic communications and found that, well, there was no policy.

Now, city employees are facing the reality that all of their emails are public record and need to be archived.

“Right now you should save everything in a file,” said Homer City Attorney Holly Wells. “This area hasn’t been litigated, so in a way we are flying blind. We are coming up with a system that we hope will be upheld by the courts.”

The decision, written into the city code, comes after the release of thousands of emails from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The Homer Tribune reports the pre-Internet city code didn’t address email, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

“We’re working to get something fluid and applicable. We don’t know what the (next) new electronics is going to be,” Wells said. There’s a lot of ambiguity and very little case history.

“How are we to incorporate Facebook (and) Twitter? What are our obligations as a city? We don’t know yet. Saving everything on your computer is making a conservative call.”

Under state public records law, the public records of all public agencies are open to inspection by the public under “reasonable rules.”

City Manager Walt Wrede said the city clerk will be responsible for archiving electronic media, an addition to the staff’s workload that hasn’t been assessed.

City officials urged members of the city council not to fear the change in policy, and to communicate with constituents as they usually would.

“There’s something sad about not communicating with constituents on email,” Wrede said.

The city plans to hold an orientation for staff and council members.

Mayor Jim Hornaday, who seldom communicates by email, expressed concern about the financial burden this could place on the city.

He cautioned city staff and council members about the potential consequences of the change.

“More and more lawsuits are being won or lost on emails,” Hornaday said. “Be very careful what you say.”

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