I’m one of those annoying people who will always tell elected officials I run into “man, you should blog.” Sometimes they shrug me off, but I’ve had at least two long back and forth conversations with local electeds that got down to specific reasons why they don’t blog. Basically, they got advice from their staff lawyer that they shouldn’t.
The logic goes that if you blog about what you do as a city councilmember, the computer you blog on and all of the data that touched that blog post is now public. Or, could be public.
I spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the Association of Washington Cities annual meeting about the use of Twitter, Facebook and blogging to reach our citizens. … The overall feedback I got afterward is that a lot of people were thankful …
What got very odd is that four people… warned that these methods could bankrupt a city because of a court ruling involving them. Needless to say, their comments had quite a chilling effect on the discussion. I had to acknowledge their concerns without being familiar with the case.
The case is O’Neil v. Shoreline (here and here), and it involved an email from a city councilmember from a private account that was part of a public records request. They (now) former council member changed parts of the email, and the court ended up ruling that the city was resposible to make sure the email was available in its original form, even if it orginated from a non-city server.
So, lawyers working for cities across Washington State are a conservative bunch, and they don’t want to end up costing their boss’s any more money than necessary. If a city councilmember is going to start blogging about city business on some outside account, they’re likely going to tell that city councilmember that its up to them to defend themselves in court when someone comes making metadata public records requests for their blogging.
I’m going to read the decision later this weekend, so hopefully I can figure out more. But, its ironic that a case that was meant to open the doors of local government is causing legal staff to offer the advice that its best to shut them right back up.
Don’t blog, we don’t want to get stuck with the legal bill and bancrupt the city when someone comes looking for your home laptop.