If a government employee or elected official uses taxpayer-funded resources to communicate with anyone, that correspondence is a public record.
For that reason, the Nevada Supreme Court must order Gov. Jim Gibbons to produce about 100 e-mail messages he sent in early 2008.
The Reno Gazette-Journal asked for copies of the messages as part of a public records request. The newspaper was pursuing a news story about what, exactly, the embattled, unavailable governor was doing with his time and who he was communicating with during a particularly turbulent time in his term. His marriage and his approval ratings were in shambles.
The governor’s office refused to comply, and when the newspaper sued, District Judge James Russell of Carson City ordered only six messages released to the newspaper. He declared that personal messages sent through government channels are not public records, keeping dozens of communications out of the newspaper’s hands.
Judge Russell’s ruling couldn’t have been more wrong. The idea that the agents of our government, using computer equipment and e-mail addresses provided at the expense of taxpayers, while being paid by the same taxpayers to perform jobs on their behalf, are free to send any number of personal messages free from the scrutiny of the public is beyond absurd.
In a brief asking the Supreme Court to reverse Judge Russell’s decision, Gazette-Journal attorney Scott Glogovac said at least part of every message should be revealed to the public. “This coverage is important to the public as it provides a main source of information regarding the activity of government officials and of the trustworthiness of those officials and their suitability to maintain public office,” Mr. Glogovac stated.
Considering it’s the job of the state’s chief law enforcement agency to prosecute violations of state law, the attorney general’s office should take the side of the newspaper. Instead, it’s likely to take the side of Gov. Gibbons, its “client,” and defend the governor’s indefensible position — at your expense.
It will fall on the state Supreme Court to declare that if anyone in the public sector wants a guarantee that their personal communications will be kept secret, they must do that communicating on their own time, on their own dime.