April 23, 2018

Use of Email in City Government

Use of Email in City Government

Emails are like any other public record in that each one, outside of an exception found in KRS 61.878, can constitute a public record subject to the Open Records Act (ORA) and the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives (KDLA) Record Retention Schedule.  Therefore, the city must be certain to evaluate each electronic message to see if it fits into an exception. If not, city officials must follow the most recent record retention requirements set out by the KDLA.

The Attorney General clearly states that public officials should avoid the use of a personal email account to conduct city business.  In 2014, the Attorney General stated that using private email accounts is a practice that raises “significant records management and retention issues.”  As an alternative to using a private account, the Attorney General states that public agencies can establish “separate email accounts for employees through a free service, such as Gmail, using a common naming convention that identifies” the government (for example, johndoecityofpleasant@gmail.com).  Another alternative is “to set up a single dedicated open records account, using a free service, to which all responsive email maintained on personal accounts could be forwarded, saved, and exported in the event of an open records request.”

In whatever way the city decides to handle email retention, a written policy needs to be in place that delineates the information for all city officials and employees.  At the very minimum, the policy needs to address:  

  • That the ORA as well as the KDLA Record Retention Schedule is applicable to the city and its agencies;
  • That the policy applies to all electronic messages created, received, retained, used or disposed of related to city business or used in the name of the city; and
  • User responsibility in regards to retention and disposition of electronic messages.  

Deciding which electronic records must be retained is not an easy feat.  Electronic records will have to be gathered and a decision made as to whether or not they are exempt based on one of the open records exemptions.  More information on how that process works as well as a model policy can be found on the KDLA website.

For sample policies or more information on this or any other personnel matter, contact Andrea Shindlebower Main personnel services specialist.