Emails withheld because disclosure may cause “substantial injury to the public interest”

From the Colorado Springs Independent:  Mayor Steve Bach’s executive team uses private email for city business, and gaining access to those messages can be tricky.

Using private email for government business is at the forefront of the fuss over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email and a private server for public business while in office. In Colorado, use of private email by government officials also has caused a stir among agencies who fight for transparency.

So although records released by the city don’t show local officials relying solely on personal email for city business, transparency advocates say there’s still cause for concern.

“If a public official uses a private account, he or she in practical terms is the one controlling access, even if the law says those emails are public records,” says Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Council.

Varying retention policies and archiving capabilities, along with the question of who has custodial control, make retrieval of such emails “even more difficult, if not impossible,” he adds. “It shouldn’t be so easy for them to just disappear.”

For example, the city’s own retention policy requires correspondence, including email, that contains “long-term administrative, policy, legal, fiscal, historical or research value” be kept permanently. However, city spokeswoman Julie Smith says the city has no policy that prohibits use of personal email for city business. The city also allows officials whose emails are sought through Colorado Open Records Act requests to delete them at will.

When the Independent sought emails from private accounts in mid-March under CORA for specific dates, the city asserted that many messages were “so candid or personal that public disclosure is likely to stifle honest and frank discussion within the government” and that “public disclosure … may cause substantial injury to the public interest.”

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