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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Charlotte City Leaders Are Deleting Constituents' E-mails...Vote Them Out!

Charlotte City Politicians Should Step Away From The Delete Key

Letters, e-mails and other city-related correspondence to and from Charlotte City Council members is public record. They should be saved. End of story.

It's troubling that some City Council members are routinely deleting city-government-related e-mails.

It's more troubling that city attorneys appear to think that's OK. And what's most troubling is that the attorneys seem to be trying to parse out the wording in the state's guidelines in such a way as to give City Council members reasons not to do the right thing by the public.

Regardless of what city attorneys are saying, City Council members themselves should recognize that city business is the public's business - and stop deleting those e-mails.

The state's Records Retention and Disposition Schedule issued by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources says e-mails and letters considered "correspondence and memoranda" can be destroyed when the user feels they're no longer needed. But it also says "citizen complaints and service requests" should be kept for one year after they're resolved. Here's the key language defining those documents: "Records concerning objections, dissatisfaction or disagreements with actions or positions taken or not taken by a municipal agency. May include routine requests for service or information and petition with no legal affect."

Charlotte's Senior Deputy City Attorney Robert Hagemann says council members aren't a "municipal agency," so he thinks that language doesn't apply.

The state archivist, the head of the local records unit in the N.C. Division of Historial Records and the executive director of the N.C. Press Association all disagree.

But come on. Just because a good legal mind might be able to find some language loophole through which City Council members could weasel out doesn't mean they should.

Our city's leaders should not be trying to justify why it might be OK to delete city-related e-mails. They should, instead, be working on how to store the e-mails appropriately, as though they are on-paper letters, and how to make them available to the public. City Council members should be instructed to use city government e-mails for city business, and those e-mails should be archived and made available to any who want to read them. No more winking and nodding and parsing of phrases while council members delete legitimate government records.

After all, city government - like county, state and federal governments - belong to all of us. We, the people, are the government. And we, the people, are entitled to see what our elected officials and our government are doing.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers,, Google Maps

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