Thursday, March 09, 2006

City's claim that emails go on line ridiculous, fiction

Cross-posted at the new Open Government Austin blog.


The Austin City Council must literally think nobody's watching them. After hearing the language they placed on the ballot to describe the Open Government Online charter amendment - hell, I might vote against it if any of it were true.

Most angering was the absurd and patently false claim that under the amendment all the public's email--including individual communications to health clinics or police--must be put online in real time. As though anybody wants to look at that many more ads for Valium and Rolex on somebody else's email in real time!!

That's absurd. The amendment only requires that email be archived. That's it. Records retention. The amendment explicitly requires the city to abide by laws related to personal privacy while it generally increases the availability of information online. It does not require posting of emails on line. Here's the entire section of the
charter amendment regarding email correspondence:

(1)In order to better preserve written electronic communication for public disclosure, the City must establish a system that automatically archives all incoming and outgoing electronic communication that deals with City business to and from the following people in their official capacity: (a) City Councilmembers and their staff; (b) City Manager and his or her staff; (c) Assistant City Managers and their staff; and (d) all department heads.

(2)The above people are prohibited from discussing City business via any form of written electronic communication, such as a private email account, that is outside of the City’s automatic archiving system.
That's the whole section. Would somebody tell me where that says email goes online?

The City is making ridiculous interpretations of language elsewhere that describes the larger intent of the amendment--to make Austin a leader in open, transparent and online government--but ignoring the specific language on the topic, not to mention state law that makes correspondence about allegations of crime to the police, for example, or personal health information confidential by law.

I'm too angry now to write more, but future blog items, I'm sure, will further dissect the piece of fiction that voters will see representing this amendment on the ballot.

: The Statesman has placed the City's misleading ballot language online (pdf), along with their initial coverage. Even though their editorial page opposed the measure, I hope the newspaper will show more integrity than the city council did and explain to the public how biased and misleading this ballot language really is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I watched the meeting on TV. Changing the ballot language to trash the amendment so radically at the last minute really showed their true colors, didn't it? I haven't read the amendment, but their behavior shows why more open government is needed.