TC Palm by Lidia Dinkova
May 9, 2017
County commissioners no longer can use their personal email and social media accounts to discuss public business and are now bound to use their county email accounts.
The change is imposed as a result of an arbitrator’s conclusion that the county and some commissioners failed to comply with public records requests made by the Lake Point rock mine.
The County Commission on Tuesday unanimously voted to implement the policy.
State law establishes requirements for complying with public records requests. But it has no provision addressing whether county commissioners can use personal email accounts, such as Yahoo or Gmail, or social media accounts, such as Facebook, to conduct and discuss public business, said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation.
In Martin County, commissioners get a county-issued email account. Under the new rule, if a commissioner gets an email about public business in a personal email account, that commissioner has to forward the email to his or her county email.
The policy is being imposed after the court required the county adopts a policy to ensure the timely gathering and preservation of public records, County Attorney Sarah Woods said at Tuesday’s meeting.
The court mandated the change after arbitrator Howard Googe concluded in a Feb. 15 report that the county and some sitting and former commissioners failed to comply with Lake Point public records requests.
Lake Point, about a mile east of Lake Okeechobee’s Port Mayaca Locks in Martin County, years earlier had requested emails, notes and other public records that pertain to its project from Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding and former Commissioner Anne Scott. It eventually sued the county, claiming it violated state law because it failed to or delayed producing the records, according to court records.
Googe determined that Fielding’s and Scott’s delays in producing the records were “unjustifiable” and Heard’s claim her Yahoo email was hacked was “suspicious.”
“There was a pattern and practice of non-compliance and lack of diligence by the county and certain County Commissioners in preserving and producing public records pursuant to the public records requests in this case,” Googe wrote.
Fielding, Heard and Scott have pointed out they are not named defendants in the lawsuit and have said they complied with the public records requests.
Martin County agreed to pay the $371,801 in attorneys’ fees Googe said the county owes Lake Point. [READ MORE]