Another story on government email from Erik Schelzig with the Associated Press:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Gov. Bill Haslam is defending a practice among his outsourcing advisers to avoid email correspondence to prevent information getting out to the public.
The Republican governor told reporters after an economic development conference this week that it’s a standard practice of “sharing some wisdom” with new employees who have come to government from the private sector that all of their correspondence is subject to Tennessee’s open records laws.
“Any government that comes into office, the very first day they say, careful what you put in that email, because unless you want to see it in the newspaper, don’t put it in that email,” Haslam said Wednesday. “It’s just part of the world we live in.”
But Haslam also reiterated his administration’s long-held position that the public records law requiring disclosure of deliberative material applies to everyone in state government – except him.
“If this is part of our deliberative process and we’re discussing things back and forth – unless it’s with the governor – then that’s open to a records request,” Haslam said.
When challenged about where state law authorizes the denial of public records based on deliberative privilege, Haslam’s attorneys have said their interpretation is based on common law, not on any of the hundreds of exemptions to the state’s open records law. The governor’s office has used that legal argument to justify even redacting the governor’s email address from public records.
Haslam told reporters this week that the release of drafts and other deliberations can cause confusion as his administration mulls over privatizing operations at state office buildings, parks, colleges, prisons and armories. The governor insisted that no decision has been made and that an internal timetable on privatization efforts was presented in news media reports as fact rather than a proposal that was not approved.
“You all have the luxury of having emails that don’t get made public,” Haslam told reporters. “We have to remind people that come from the private world that you’re not in that world anymore, and everything you write is public record.”
Deborah Fisher, the executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, lauded the governor for saying his administration will follow open records laws.
“But I think it would set a bad example for the state if his comments are taken as encouragement to somehow keep things secret by avoiding documentation in the first place,” Fisher said in an email.
“Transparency creates trust, public records provide accountability,” she said. “Both of those should trump any short-term discomfort by advisers who are funded with taxpayer dollars.”
Senate Democrats have criticized the Haslam administration for trying to avoid the creation of public records as they work toward a decision on what could be a major change in the way the state does business.
“That’s not what government is here for,” Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, said this week. “We need a lot more transparency.”