A Dover Area School Board member was ordered to turn over any personal emails that would amount to district records, after a Right to Know request was filed by some other current and former board members.
According to an appeal decision from the state Office of Open Records, Bryan Rehm, Bernadette Reinking and Phillip Herman filed Right to Know requests asking for emails that are public records involving the district sent or received by board member Dan Sindlinger since Dec. 5, 2011. Rehm and Reinking are also board members and Herman is a former member.
The district gave access to the emails on district accounts, but denied the request for emails on Sindlinger’s personal account, saying the district didn’t have the opportunity to review those, according to the decision.
The requesters appealed. Sindlinger argued the request was not specific and that he had 6,200 emails that would have to be reviewed, saying it would be a “gross misuse of time and cost” to the district.
The open records office said that since the request was limited to one official and the time frame was only a year and a half, the request is sufficient. The office also noted that the number of records to be reviewed can’t be the basis for denial.
Rehm and Herman said that the requests were filed because they suspect Sindlinger of sharing confidential information from board executive sessions with members of the public. Sindlinger said he has not.
Rehm said he wanted to know what Sindlinger was doing and if it would potentially open up the district to litigation. Rehm said there were emails from members of the public to Sindlinger’s district address, asking that he communicate with them by his personal email address, so Rehm and the other requesters felt it was necessary to seek the personal emails, too.
Sindlinger said he has not divulged any confidential information. He also suggested that if items are discussed in executive session when they shouldn’t be, anyone should have the right to divulge that information.
Sindlinger, after initially taking some time to consider whether he’d turn over the records or appeal, said today that he submitted emails that followed the guidelines of the Office of Open Records to the district’s open records officer, who would be the one to determine which are public records. He said he didn’t count them but probably turned over 40 to 50.
“I think it should put the matter to rest sooner,” he said. “And, you know, I think that would benefit everybody.”
Who goes through emails? As I was looking into this, I asked J. Chadwick Schnee, assistant chief counsel for the Office of Open Records, who would go through the emails. He said the law is a little unsettled in that area.
In another case, involving York Township Commissioner Ken Silberstein, the Commonwealth Court ruled that the agency’s open records officer was to inquire of the official whether they had any records, and the official had to make some sort of determination about which records were responsive. The open records officer would determine if the records included public records, Schnee said.
Read more about Silberstein’s case on the Record Tracker blog.