Using private email for public matters not recommended

There seems to be a trend happening in our government where publicly elected officials are, perhaps, getting a little too comfortable with using their personal email accounts for official business.

In our view, there is a serious problem with this. For one, it can most certainly be construed as though our legislators and other elected leaders are attempting to withhold information from the eyes of the public, the same people who chose them for their jobs.

In essence, we the people, collectively, are the boss of those elected to hold public office, and our chosen leaders mustn’t forget that we will hold them accountable for their actions — good or bad.

Personal emails, unlike work-related accounts used by government officials, are typically not subject to the same rules and regulations of the Freedom of Information Act.

When our government leaders and legislators use personal email accounts to conduct official business, some interesting questions are raised.

One of those questions is whether the email created does meet the criteria of being a public record. Could it be considered simple conversation, such as that which could have taken place in the coffee shop, on the street sidewalk or over the telephone? Or is the email something more critical, such as a discussion over policy or another conversation which should be conducted during an open meeting and in clear view of the public electorate?

Clearly, not every situation is cut-and-dried or black and white, and some of these questions may be best answered by a judge or debated by attorneys in court. But due to that murkiness, and the many shades of gray these questions and others may present, we encourage all of our government leaders to always take the most transparent path.

Regardless of party affiliation and position of elected or appointed public office, one thing should be made clear: If public business is being conducted on personal email accounts, then it should stop. That’s what work email accounts are for.

Last year, national headlines were littered with then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for public matters when she was acting as our nation’s secretary of state. That issue was a hot-button one for many Republicans, particularly during the campaign cycle, and it could be argued that the Democrat may have lost some votes over it.

And now, back home in Michigan, our Republican attorney general, Bill Schuette, along with several members of his staff are under the gun for using personal email accounts to conduct state business.

A liberal activist group, Progress Michigan, is suing Schuette after his office rejected its request for the private emails through FOIA.

In that same story which appeared in the Journal last week, The Associated Press reported Gov. Rick Snyder and even Vice President Mike Pence have come under scrutiny for using personal email accounts when conducting public business.

It is regrettable that Schuette’s situation has gotten to the point of litigation being filed, but there’s still time to fix the problem.

If the allegations are true, and it sounds as though the plaintiffs have specific examples, then we’d like to take this opportunity to urge the attorney general to take the extra step toward transparency and release the emails.

Schuette has eyed the governor’s mansion, and similar to what happened to Hillary Clinton last year, he can count on his political opponents to bring up this issue again when campaign season is in full swing.

While the attorney general’s lawsuit may resolve one instance, the larger problem of public officials using private accounts for public business must be addressed. Though, admittedly, holding elected officials accountable for that is often easier said than done. Still, that is our duty as members of the public, and we the people, collectively, must always strive for transparency.

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