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City Council moves to close off access to e-mail

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         MASSACHUSETTS         Freedom of Information         Mar 31, 2000    

City Council moves to close off access to e-mail

  • The Boston City Council, which has long refused to release its e-mail correspondence, passed a rule that if approved will officially exempt the e-mail from the public records law.

In late March, the Boston City Council unanimously approved a home-rule petition that, if signed by the mayor and approved by the Legislature, would allow the board to exempt itself from the public records law. Members of the council have long refused to release their e-mail communications to a journalist in apparent violation of the state’s public records law.

“The role of a public official is to serve the public interest,” Bill Ketter, chairman of the Boston University journalism program, told The Boston Globe. “The public interest is best served through complete access to records.”

The plan’s supporters say a ban on releasing e-mail communications and other correspondence is needed to protect the privacy of constituents and others who write to council members.

“I believe reasonable people might not write to us if they were led to believe that what they write might be published in a newspaper,” at-large councilman Stephen Murphy, who is spearheading the initiative, told the Globe.

The state Attorney General’s Office ruled in November 1999 that the council members’ e-mails were subject to disclosure under the public records law. The controversy began in January 1999, when a Boston newspaper reporter first requested access to the e-mails to determine whether council members were discussing a public-works project with constituents.

The state supervisor of public records had also sided with the reporter and ordered disclosure of the e-mails.

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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