Herald Tribune by Nicole Rodriguez
January 9, 2019
When a government official uses their own email, it could be perceived as circumvention of state open records laws, public records experts say.
SARASOTA — Sarasota Mayor Liz Alpert continued to use her personal email to discuss city matters even after the city manager was found last year to have extensively used his Gmail account to conduct city business, public records show.
In a batch of emails the Herald-Tribune obtained from City Hall critic and former City Commission candidate Martin Hyde, records show Alpert sent or received nearly seven separate emails — amounting to four email threads on her personal email address — and dozens of text messages on her personal cellphone after it was discovered in August that City Manager Tom Barwin sent or received nearly 3,000 emails discussing city issues.
Alpert, since her election in May 2015, sent and received roughly 54 emails — amounting to 19 email threads or conversations — and dozens of text messages to and from concerned citizens, former firefighters and other public officials, according to the documents Hyde received earlier this month through a public records request.
In the email exchanges since the Barwin email disclosure, which resulted in a lawsuit alleging Barwin violated state open records law, Alpert schedules events and interviews with reporters. In another, she received a complaint from a citizen about underground wiring and received an email from an attorney congratulating her on an interview Alpert did on a misconduct investigation into the city clerk, which recently resulted in the commission asking the clerk to resign, the documents show.
When a government official uses their personal email, it could be perceived as circumvention of state open records laws, public records experts have told the Herald-Tribune.
Public officials are urged to use government emails for their official duties so that their conversations are properly archived and available to the public and those conducting oversight. It is not illegal for government officials to use private email accounts, but they must preserve the messages because they are public records.
Alpert says she intends to be more careful in the future and will immediately forward any emails or texts she receives on personal devices to the city server. Most of the emails and texts were unsolicited by Alpert and in some, Alpert asks senders to message her city email address, the documents show. The city has a system in place that archives texts and emails if they are sent to a city device, Alpert said.