Port Orchard implements e-mail policy

The Port Orchard city government is giving its employees detailed instructions about what not to put in an e-mail, as part of an effort to implement responsible online behavior.

“We have a large staff and it’s important to train them properly about these matters,” City Attorney Greg Jacoby said at the Feb. 6 city council meeting. “Taking a leadership role here demonstrates responsible risk management.”

Any e-mail sent by a city employee is subject to a disclosure request and can be used as evidence in a lawsuit.

The purpose of the policy is to promote clear communication while decreasing the possibility of a lawsuit, according to City Clerk Patty Kirkpatrick.

“Anything that you write in an e-mail can be used in a lawsuit,” Kirkpatrick said. “My rule is to never include anything in an e-mail that I would not put into a business letter.”

While the instructions were designed for government, Kirkpatrick said they can be applied to all e-mail that is used for any purpose.

They are not behavioral, offering general tips about how to act online, but include specific phrases that should not be used anywhere as part of an official communication.

Implied in the guidelines is that employees should avoid the situations that would prompt them to say these phrases in the first place.

The statements to be avoided are:

• “We’re going to do this differently than normal.” 

• “I don’t think I am supposed to know this.” 

• “I don’t want to discuss this in a public record. Please give me a call.”

• “Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.”

• “Is this actually legal?”

• “Delete this email immediately, before someone makes a public records request.”

• “I really shouldn’t put this in writing — it’s probably a public record.”

• “I could get into trouble for telling you this, but.” 

• “Don’t send this to (specific name).”

• “They will never find out.”

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