Port Orchard councilmembers discussed setting up an email policy, but discovered there are some technical issues that need to be taken care of before they can take action.
Councilmembers spent about 30 minutes discussing the email policy at the Jan. 21 work session.
City Clerk Brandy Rinearson said in 2010 the council discussed an email policy for elected officials, but brought up the item again because of a recent case involving Bainbridge Island.
Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton ruled in November that three Bainbridge Island city councilmembers must hand over emails from their personal accounts, according to the Bainbridge Review.
The Review reported Bainbridge Island residents Althea Paulson and Robert Fortner filed a lawsuit against Bainbridge Island in September that claimed the city and council members Steve Bonkowski, David Ward and Debbi Lester failed to turn over public records that had been requested under the state's Public Records Act.
The lawsuit was filed two months after the residents made a request for a large batch of emails that were sent and received by city councilmembers. Some of the emails showed that councilmembers had been using their personal email accounts to talk about city business and issues before the council.
Paulson and Fortner filed suit after realizing that the three councilmembers had withheld emails that should have been released under the state's Open Records Act. At a September hearing, an attorney representing Paulson and Fortner asked the court to order council members to turn over their computer hard drives so the public records could be gathered by city officials and released, reported The Review.
Port Orchard City Attorney Greg Jacoby said he sees the email policy as a “risk management issue” for Rinearson and the city.
“I don’t think the Bainbridge Island case was correctly decided, but that’s the opinion of just one judge that might hear a case brought against the city,” Jacoby said.
Jacoby said councilmembers should copy emails sent to their personal email address to their city email address — every time they receive or send an email relating to city business.
“Every time you would send a copy it would be sent to the city server,” explained Jacoby. “And when we do a public records request, all those emails will be on the city server.”
Jacoby said if councilmembers would follow an email policy that required copying all personal email relating to city business to the city server, there would be not reason to look at the councilmember’s personal computer.
He said many of the councilmembers use their personal email accounts.
Councilman Jerry Childs said he uses his personal email account because the city’s email system is “too cumbersome.”
“Why don’t we fix that,” Childs said.
Councilman Fred Chang said there’s a need for an email policy because it is a security hazard to have emails sent to the city account.
Public Works Director Mark Dorsey said because the police department is located at City Hall, there is a firewall for security that is required through Homeland Security.
“It makes the copying emails an issue because it gets caught in a spam filter and doesn’t get through the firewall,” Dorsey explained.
Chang said it’s easier to get other email accounts on electronic devices such as cellphones and mini computers. He said it takes several steps to log on to his city email account.
“The city email account is not easy by any means,” he added.
Councilman Rob Putaansuu said the city email shouldn’t be on the police department’s server, but on a separate server.
Development Director Nick Bond said the city could use a separate internet connection or a Cloud-based email system.
“If we contracted with Microsoft or Google, they would host our emails on the Cloud so you wouldn’t have to maintain a server,” Bond noted. “We could switch all the non-police employees to it.”
“There is technology out there we are not utilizing,” said Putaansuu.
Councilman Jeff Cartwright said the policy needs to go beyond email, including text messages.
“Anything that doesn’t go though the city server is the issue,” Cartwright said. “If you are using our personal phone for texting other councilmembers and it’s not going through the city server, you are opening up your personal phone for public request.”
Jacoby suggested that councilmembers send email copies to Rinearson or another city employee.
“I’d rather they go to their regular city email address,” said Rinearson. “I don’t need to be involved in any of your city emails. Copy it to your city email account.”
Councilman John Clauson said he’s looked at his city’s email account once.
“It is so difficult to get into it,” he said. “When I respond to an email on my tablet or phone, there is a copy of it on my Kitsap Transit server.”
Chang asked the city attorney if he could bring the council another city’s email policy to examine.
Jacoby said there is something very unique about Port Orchard.
“I have never heard of any other city having the problems you have,” said Jacoby.
Clauson said there are two issues — an email policy and a technical issue.
“There is no point adopting a policy that we can’t implement because of technical issues,” Jacoby said.
The council will take action at a later date. Until then, councilmembers will forward or copy their emails to their city accounts.