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Auburn woman says city council won’t turn over emails

City says the emails are not public record
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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An Auburn resident says she may move forward with filing a lawsuit against the city for not providing her with records of emails related to Auburn becoming a charter city in councilmembers’ personal emails. Michael Colantuono, city attorney, said the city has fully cooperated with the Brown Act and given Connolly every document that has come through, but the city councilmembers’ are not legally required to make information in their personal emails a part of the public record. Councilmembers say sharing the emails would compromise communication with their constituents. Connolly, an Auburn resident and member of the grassroots group fighting the Wal-Mart project, said she believes the city’s policy of destroying documents after 30 days or entering them into the public record is illegal and that all communications to and from councilmembers related to the city should be part of the public record, including those in their personal emails. She said because their personal emails were listed under their contact information on the city’s website, personal emails should also be part of the public record. “I am hoping something may come out of this that would reframe their policy,” Connolly said. She made her first California Public Records Act Request on Sept. 12, 2011. She asked for copies of any emails, letters or other written, recorded or videoed correspondence or records between councilmembers and non-governmental entities having to do with the building and contracting industry related to Auburn becoming a charter city from Jan. 1, 2008 to Sept. 12, 2011. Connolly said she asked for the records because she wanted to see if there were outside interests pushing for Auburn to become a charter city. Connolly said the city responded by telling her there were no records within the scope of her request. City councilmembers added there has been no influence by an outside group to propose a charter city for Auburn. At that point, she asked to inspect the legislative files at City Hall herself and did so on three separate occasions. She said in November she found documents in the files that were more than 30 days old and weren’t put in the files within 30 days. At that point, Connolly said she continued her efforts to obtain email correspondence from councilmembers’ personal emails and hired lawyer Karl Olsen. Since then, she said some emails and other documents have been given to her by the city, but councilmembers said they would not release any correspondence between them and their constituents. Connolly said she is working independently of Preserve Auburn - No on Measure A and is not working with any unions. She asserted that when citizens send emails to councilmembers they expect it to become part of the public record. “My primary interest all along has been transparency,” Connolly said. Olsen said if filed, the goal of the lawsuit would be to obtain the emails and address the city’s current policy. “We are trying to get the public records related to the charter debate, specifically, but also the city’s policy of deleting emails is very troubling and we think it does not comply with state law, which requires that records be kept for two years,” Olsen said. Olsen said that even the emails councilmembers write on their personal emails should be subject to the law if they are related to city business and officials should not have the power to decide which emails to keep. “You can’t have them deciding which emails they are going to keep. That is just a blueprint for corruption and for not doing the public’s business,” Olsen said. Currently, the policy is that emails are destroyed after 30 days or added to the public record, Colantuono said. He said if their views were subject to becoming part of the public record when communicating with councilmembers, local people probably wouldn’t communicate with them as openly. “You are putting yourself out there for shots back and people won’t do it,” Colantuono said. Councilmember Kevin Hanley said he agrees that the council’s decision complies with the law and providing the emails would have consequences for the democratic process. “From the public policy point of view, if we were to release any emails from our constituents and ourselves, councilmembers, it would be a disaster for the relationship between constituents and their local elected officials, if somehow a court were to uphold that,” Hanley said. Hanley said outside interests are not a factor in his support of Auburn becoming a charter city and the issue at stake is voters feeling comfortable with communicating with their elected officials. Hanley said the council has actually rejected proposals by the outside interest group, Associated Builders and Contractors, which Connolly says is promoting the charter. “No outside group, including ABC, has contributed a single dime to the ‘yes’ on Measure A group and we have $25,000 per start by a big Sacramento lobbyist group funding the ‘no’ side,” Hanley said. Councilmember Dr. Bill Kirby said he believes his constituents have a right to communicate with him and the rest of the city council without having their views become a public record. He said to his knowledge no outside interests were a factor in the possibility of Auburn becoming a charter city. When it comes to the emails from constituents to his personal email, Kirby said Connolly has no right to read them. “It’s none of her business anyway,” Kirby said. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.