The server saves copies of incoming and outgoing emails to and from city email accounts, including those of elected officials. The goal of the system is to streamline the open records request process by enabling the city secretary to search for information responsive to requests using the server, according to city documents.
Previously when the city received an open records request asking for a city staffer or elected official’s emails, which are public information, the city secretary would have to ask the staff member or elected official to compile the requested emails.
When first discussed in May, the archive server sparked debate among City Council members, some of whom said they wanted to set up a procedure in which the mayor and council members would still be notified when their emails were being requested.
The city has since created an Email Archive Server Policy to outline the process through which council members’ emails are to be retrieved using the serving. Leander City Council voted unanimously July 9 to adopt the Email Archive Server Policy.
According to the policy, the city secretary will use the server to search for requested emails, but council members whose emails are subject to an open records request will be provided a copy of the request as well as copies of the information retrieved, including information that qualifies for exceptions under the Texas Public Information Act.
A governmental body that seeks to withhold certain information from the public may ask for permission to do so from the Texas attorney general. The act outlines exceptions to disclosure, or instances in which information can be withheld, such as certain personnel information.
Council Member Christine Sederquist, who said she helped come up with the policy, said this process does not mean council members get a say in what information is released to the public and what is not, but it does give them an opportunity to flag certain sensitive items, such as names of minors.
“In the end, we (council members) are not the people that decide what goes out and what doesn’t,” Sederquist said. “We just tell the city secretary or [attorney], ‘Here’s an issue with this.’... I feel like our role in that is just an extra set of eyes.”
Sederquist said when the idea to use the server was first discussed she was in favor of using it, but was concerned about security issues, such as a breach in the server. A section of the new policy addresses security. According to the policy, council members will be able to see all instances of when the network has been accessed. The policy notes that the IT department will maintain records of when the archive is being accessed, which the city manager will share with council members regularly.
“I have never liked the policy of it being just the honor system and saying, ‘This is all I have,’” Sederquist said, referring to the former process for retrieving elected officials’ emails. “I love the software. I just didn’t love not having any sort of protective policy on the software.”
The city’s Information Technology Department began saving emails to the server Sept. 1, 2018, according to city documents.
To retrieve emails from before the server was implemented, the secretary will ask council members directly for the emails, as was done previously, according to the city’s Email Archive Server Policy.