Wisconsin has some of the most powerful open records and open meetings laws in the nation, and we like to know what our politicians are doing. The laws were written long before e-mail became a dominant communication tool, but obviously, e-mails are a critical part of the public record.
You’d think that the Chief of Staff for a State Senator would know that, but Rose Smyrski claims she didn’t. She testified last week that she regularly used her own Yahoo e-mail account when she worked at home, evenings and weekends. Smyrski runs LaCrosse Republican Senator Dan Kapanke’s office.
She claimed she didn’t know that records created at home on her Yahoo account, doing state business, wouldn’t be subject to the open records law, because she was at home - not at the office.
It’s so much easier just to use your home e-mail than to log into the state’s system to send the messages.
Especially when the Democrats sued under the open records law to get a look at her “homework”. There’s no policy against what Smyrski did, but then again, there are no guidelines on when it might be appropriate for state employees to use personal e-mail accounts to do state business.
No matter what, Bill Lueders, head of the state’s Freedom of Information Council, says there should be such a policy or set of guidelines. Lueders states what should be obvious when he says work done at home on the state’s behalf, using a personal e-mail account, is still part of the public record.
I’m sure it never occurred to Ms. Smyrski that all she had to do to keep it legal, would be to send a copy of each e-mail and response she did from her personal account, to her state account. But it’s so inconvenient to add another recipient to the “to” line.
The intent of the open records law is blindingly clear: if you’re doing anything that relates to state business, it’s part of the public record, with very, very few exceptions. Now, because of Ms. Smyrski, the State Senate will undertake a review of its e-mail policies.
Common sense would seem to suffice, but apparently not. Especially when you’re dealing with politicians. Or people who are deliberately trying to hide something. Or who just don’t have any common sense.