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Using private e-mail for Monroe County government business

By Scott Tibbs, March 20, 2015

We have heard a lot about Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail account for official government business and the debate over that practice. But we should also be aware of what local government is doing. At least two elected officials in local government - Monroe County Commissioners Pat Stoffers and Julie Thomas - openly use private e-mail accounts for official business. I posted a screenshot on Facebook last week of the commissioners' contact information, with the e-mail addresses they use.

To be fair, this is not a perfect analogy to the Clinton e-mail controversy, because both commissioners are open and public about using private e-mail for official government business. It is also not a secret that at least two members of the Monroe County Council have their county e-mail forwarded to their private e-mail accounts as well, though those addresses are not on the county council's website.

It is not uncommon for government officials to have personal e-mail accounts, obviously. It is not uncommon for a personal e-mail address to be occasionally used for official business, in government or any line of work. This is not a problem, provided the official e-mail account is copied on that correspondence so an official record is kept. The concern comes in when a private e-mail account are the primary means of communication for two of the three county commissioners and at least two members of the county council. This raises transparency and oversight issues, because these e-mail addresses are not controlled by county technical services.

This policy should be reversed, at both the county and state level. First, county government should reverse the policy of allowing elected officials to use private e-mail accounts, and have all county e-mails stored on county servers. Second, the state legislature should act to prohibit any local elected official from using a personal e-mail account for official government business if an official government e-mail address is available. The taxpayers of Indiana deserve to know that all official business is recorded for the public to see.

No matter how trustworthy or committed to transparency government officials may be, "trust us" should never be the policy for retaining official government records.