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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fort Thomas Officials Attempt More Transparency With City Emails

Councilman, Ken Bowman. FTM file. 
Fort Thomas elected officials are trying to be more transparent by using city-assigned emails for city business instead of their personal email accounts. The city accounts were created last year.

"You may recall that I was the council member that pushed for the establishment of individual city email accounts to be listed on city website" said Councilman Ken Bowman. "This was to make it easier for constituents to communicate with us."

Recently Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state, made headlines last week when it was revealed she used her private email account for public business. Other national public officials also were found to have done the same.

That's a problem only because records involving public business, even if in a private email account, remain public documents and are subject to Open Records and other disclosure laws.

City Administrator Don Martin said there is no official policy regarding what email elected officials use but they have been advised that if they use their personal email account for city-related purposes, they must retain copies of their email.

"A city email account is provided for each elected official and can be accessed by the public on the city's website," said Martin. "The city's email server retains copies of all email sent to and from these accounts.  Email generated by city employees from the city's server can be sent to either the elected officials' city-provided email addresses or to their private email addresses because the city's server will retain copies of these messages and replies."

Councilman, Adam Meier, agrees that he thinks they are a good idea in practice, but ease of use is a problem early on. "I like having them and try to use them exclusively when responding to residents who contact me to preserve a record of the conversation," said Meier. "I do still use personal email in many instances when corresponding with the city administrator. The reason is because I can only check my city email from home (doesn't sync with my phone) and using my personal email I can send and receive in a more timely fashion. Plus, the record is still preserved on the server since it is going to Don's city email."

Councilman Jeff Bezold said most residents continue to contact him on his personal email but that he likes the idea of separating personal and city business. "I like having a dedicated email for city business, it's good for organization. I have not had trouble accessing, I have them forwarded to an email address I created that comes directly to my phone (but) most of the email comes to my personal email. Therefore, I could live without the (email)."

Bowman believes an email policy should be put in place for elected and city officials. "There should be, but the only one that I have been made aware of is to retain all correspondence, and reply from city account even when auto forwarded to personal account."

Bowman set up a e-mail account strictly for city business when he was elected, before the city assigned official emails. "Now that we have official city accounts, we are transitioning to the new system of keeping them separate," he said. "The city e-mail from is set up to forward to my (personal) account only to expedite a response since I don't log on to city server on a daily basis."

Councilwoman Lisa Kelly, said there have been a few kinks to work out. "This is my fourth term on council and I have been in the habit of using my work email for city business. I'm very happy we now each have a city email address , but it hasn't become second nature just yet. It's not as easy to access city email from a mobile device on the go. I have also has some technical issues with the city email which has been frustrating. I have been logged out while writing or replying to an email and everything was deleted. It's a work in progress."

"I have never used the city email for personal use, nor do I intend to," she added. "I have in the past, and still do on occasion, use my work email for city matters. I am hoping to fully transition over to using city email exclusively." 

Bowman believes that for the sake of transparency, city business should be kept on city email servers and all use of personal email for city business should be phased out. "Without a doubt, it would be best for all city email to be originated and replied to on the city account."

Both Bowman and Kelly said they prefer email conversations so that there is documentation of the correspondence. "However, sometimes phone calls are also helpful to better understand a particular issue or individuals position on a particular subject," said Bowman.

Mayor Eric Haas Councilman John Muller did not respond to the email request for comment on Monday. 

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