E-mail and other electronic messages are included in the definition of “public record.” 1 V.S.A. § 317(b) (Cum. Supp. 2008) (a public record is “any written or recorded information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which is produced or acquired in the course of public agency business”).
In 2008, the Vermont Superior Courts issued decisions in two cases under the Access to Public Records Act involving e-mail messages.
Personal e-mail communications between the Burlington city attorney and two women working for the city with whom he was allegedly romantically involved were exempt from disclosure as “personal documents” under 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(7). Gannett Vermont Publ’g, Inc. v. City of Burlington, No. 628-9-07 Wncv at 1-3 (Wash. County Super. Ct. Oct. 6, 2008).
E-mail messages sent between school board members regarding a vote to move sixth graders to a new school were exempt under the deliberative process and inter-departmental communications privileges under the law. 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(4) and (17). Bethel v. Bennington Sch. Dist., No. 403-10-07 (Ben. County Super. Ct. Jul. 24, 2008).
Each public agency must establish and maintain a records management program to ensure the records are available to the public. 3 V.S.A. § 218 (Cum. Supp. 2008). Further, a custodian of public records may not destroy or dispose of a public record without approval from the state archives division. The General Record Schedule issued by the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration requires that substantive correspondence be maintained for at least three years. However, the Vermont legislature apparently has only a 90-day retention policy for all e-mail on its server.