Last week Carroll House Delegation co-sponsored HB 1202 which unnecessarily restricts the Maryland Public Information Act (MD PIA). In essence it would require the county attorney to redact or visually obliterate the names of those who are e-mailed a newsletter by any political representative from their official office. It is an attempt to restrict citizens like myself and the press which seek public documents about their local government operations via requests made under the MD PIA.
In my view this bill is merely an attempt by our Delegation to provide shelter for the County Commissioners to shroud their actions from the public. Let me state here that I have no issue with any politician sending out a politically oriented message or newsletter to their constituents. They are free to do so without hindrance of the MD PIA if they send such messages from their homes or political offices using their personal e-mail address via their personal Internet Service Provider (ISP) which they pay for out of their pocket or else use a free ISP like G-mail.
However; politicians should not use their official government office, county staff and the county internet communication network to write and send politically inspired messages - but if they do choose to do so then those messages, including the electronic addresses they are mailed to, become official, public documents which should be wholly obtainable via a document request under the MD PIA.
One commissioner in particular, Richard Rothschild, has taken offense that his county email address list was made available for public review, as are all emails that originate from or are sent to the County ISP and offices. Rothschild’s comment on this matter has been a very cavalier, defiant remark to the County Attorney when directing him to violate the MD PIA, “Tough, if they don’t like it then they can sue us”. The “they” Rothschild refers to are the citizens of Carroll County. You get to watch that exchange for yourselves on Eye On Carroll web TV at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BDweXGtbrQ&context=C42f8ba0ADvjVQa1PpcFOoqyfc5G0qnHH2xvuqaDx5VYUpahPUb_o=
The inconvenient but necessary fact is that there is no right to privacy when one communicates by letter or email with an elected official at their government office – those documents are legally available under the PIA and the names and addresses of those communicating with the elected official or vice versus cannot be redacted. If what one has to say to an elected official must be done in secrecy that a citizen may either telephone that official or speak to them in person. The State Law is written quite intentionally to provide as much sunshine into government operations as possible. Open Government protects citizens of every political stripe and persuasion; it should not be taken lightly and tampered with at the whim of local politicians who prefer to operate in the dark & out of public view.
The Maryland Attorney General assigned to the State Legislature has counseled the Delegation they they just not send unofficial messages from their government offices. If a newsletter is to be sent by mass electronic mail; is intended to be for informational purposes; and is related to the official business of the public official(s), then why not send it to all County residents by e mail as a non-partisan County newsletter or only to those who request receiving a County Newsletter just as they already do for County Press releases and Commission / Board agendas.
It appears to me that the County Commissioners are using the Carroll Delegation to carry out their dirty work for them in the State House with the introduction of HB #1202. I urge citizens to the Chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, Delegate Peter Hammen (firstname.lastname@example.org), to send Bill 1202 out of the Committee with an unfavorable review, thus stopping this intrusion in its tracks. Open Government should be taken seriously by every citizen as it is a right and freedom which should not be surrendered at any cost. House Bill #1202 is an attack on citizen freedoms and their right to Open Government. It is our local government, not the politician's.