Court: Officals’ personal texts aren’t public

Absolutely terrible court ruling: emails and texts of public officials using their personal accounts or devices aren’t public records, even if they are discussing government business.

Perhaps the three-judge appeals panel just affirmed that the law has not kept up with technology. But the upshot is public officials now have a legal back-channel through which to communicate about public business and avoid scrutiny.

Mayor Anthony Silva may be the poster child for this issue. When writing — including writing about public business — Silva communicates primarily by text or private e-mail account. But the ruling applies not just to him. It gives the entire council and city staff the same right to conduct public business out of the public eye.

What happens now is a no-brainer. When dealing with a controversial issue, pulling something shady, or merely wishing to avoid the friction that comes with democratic government, elected officials and bureaucrats will use their personal accounts. This dark day for open government needs to be ended swiftly by remedial legislation.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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