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3/6/2015
New Castle County Council seeks own email - News Journal

"It is no secret that previous administrations abused their discretion in viewing county council emails. I have no reason to believe the abuse continues in this administration, but regardless, I think it is best practice for both branches to have separate systems," said Councilman Bob Weiner who has unsuccessfully pushed such efforts in the past.

New Castle County Council seeks own email
Xerxes Wilson, The News Journal March 6, 2015 

New Castle County Council is considering getting its own email service to block the potential for undocumented searches by the county's executive branch.

County Executive Tom Gordon says members of his staff have not dug through the emails of political rivals though the potential for searches outside normal freedom of information access exists.

Currently, council members' government email addresses are on the same system as all county employees giving the county's top administrators the ability to review those emails without generating a record.

Those same emails are subject to public review but that requires a written request.

"It is no secret that previous administrations abused their discretion in viewing county council emails. I have no reason to believe the abuse continues in this administration, but regardless, I think it is best practice for both branches to have separate systems," said Councilman Bob Weiner who has unsuccessfully pushed such efforts in the past.

On Tuesday, council staff will present proposals for council to have its own email and storage service provider, possibly Google or Microsoft, and new addresses to advertise outside the current county service.

"This came up because we felt that somebody was going into many of our emails. Although we have never had the systems checked to see if that was actually going on or not," said Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick.

The executive office's authority to monitor government email is not being questioned. County policy allows such monitoring at "any time for any reason." State law only requires some notification of the potential. That disclaimer comes up when government employees log in.

Gordon said he, Chief Administrative Officer David Grimaldi and the county's law department have access to portals on their computers that allow such searches.

"We don't have the time, nor do we care," Gordon said, labeling the concern as "b.s." and challenging anybody to look through his computer.
Grimaldi also denied he has ever dug through council employee communications. Both said they would support the switch.

At a previous county committee meeting, council members suggested Gordon sign an order similar to one signed by previous executive Chris Coons which ensured council emails would not be monitored.

Gordon has said he'd be open to signing such a document, but hesitated when it was presented for his signature earlier this week. He said he remained open to the concept, but wanted to consider the content of the agreement further before signing.

Though some members of the council think the move would be a prudent separation between the branches, others indicated disinterest in the effort during committee proceedings.

"I don't see for the cost, a tremendous benefit to us. I think what we have today is more open and transparent and it serves the purpose of our office," said Councilman Bill Bell.

Preliminary estimates by council Policy Director James Boyle put the cost of switch under $10,000 a year.

"I don't like signing into the system and clicking the box to say the administration can look at whatever they want to look at," said County Auditor Bob Wasserbach during the previous committee meeting on the topic. "I don't use the county's storage for confidential documents. I use my personal emails for any confidential emails I don't want the administration to look at."

Some members of council noted their use of private email to conduct public business in some cases. If those emails pertain public business, they are still public record as defined by state law.

Counsel to Council Carol Dulin said the office hasn't been presented with a request to read emails pertaining to business conducted on a council official's personal account.

Contact Staff Writer Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 (302) 324-2787 or xwilson@delawareonline.com. Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter.

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