Top 10 reasons public officials’ e-mails are private

Thumbnail image for emailwarninglabel1.jpgYork Township and its commissioners have lots of reasons why you shouldn’t be able to see their e-mails, even though public officials’ e-mails are open records under the state’s right-to-know law, according to the state’s Office of Open Records. Here’s a list, drawn from two cases in the past few months:

 1. E-mails on a commissioner’s personal computer are not

 2. Correspondence between a commissioner
and resident are not public.

 3. They’re on my work e-mail.

 4. They’re automatically deleted from my account. 

 5. If the township can’t figure out how to let you see my e-mails, it’s not my problem.


6. The only e-mails you can get are from
computers under possession and control of the township.

 7. The township doesn’t have e-mails to
commissioners because they are ‘bounced’ from a township e-mail to
another e-mail the commissioner designates.

 8. No business was conducted because the
commissioner is only one person, not the whole board of commissioners.

 9. Some commissioners’ special family recipes are in those e-mails and no one can be allowed to see them.*

 10. Any and all of the commissioners’ correspondence regarding their winnings in the Nigerian lottery are private.*

I made up those last two. But the others are real, either from the
township’s denials of RTK requests or from comments in news stories.

 For the full background on e-mails and the RTK law, including links to previous stories and documents, go here. (And here’s a link to the story on the most recent case).

fairness, the township did spend a lot of money searching through
computer records to find some commissioners’ e-mails in response to a
right-to-know request. But still — the new right-to-know law makes
documents public unless an agency can prove they shouldn’t be. It seems
logical that a public official’s e-mails concerning public businesses
are open to public review.

About Scott Blanchard

Sunday editor at the York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.
This entry was posted in Pennsylvania Right to Know, Scott Blanchard. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Top 10 reasons public officials’ e-mails are private

  1. Jo says:

    “…a public official’s e-mails concerning public business are open to public review.” As well they should. To have it any other way–ie hiding the public’s business from constituents–can serve only to raise suspicion, questions and the ire of those constituents.

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