Capitol Connection: Private Information v. Public Interest

March 19, 2014

As your elected representative, it is my honor and duty to communicate with you on matters of public concern. A representative democracy depends on communication between elected officials and their constituents. To effectively represent you, I must hear and consider your opinions.

In today’s busy world this communication often occurs via e-mail, which offers an accessible way to express your views or needs for new legislation. I value these communications, and while I do not always have the time to respond to each one, I read and consider them all. My relationship with each constituent is personal – both a private and public trust. This is why I am concerned about and want to bring your attention to a recent ruling of the Freedom of Information Commission concerning e-mail communications.

Last year’s gun legislation rightly garnered a lot of attention from the public. Scores of you e-mailed me to express your opinions and many of you included contact information so that I could reach you to discuss the matter further. These personal e-mails were often sent just to me or certain legislators and not to the general public. They are separate and distinct from the hundreds of pieces of “public testimony” formally submitted to the legislature on the gun bill.

I, along with many other legislators, received a Freedom of Information request seeking all records, including e-mails, relating to the gun legislation. Certainly, communications urging me to vote for or against pending legislation are a legitimate matter of public interest, and I readily provided the substance of all such e-mails.

However, I felt equally strongly that your individually identifiable contact information, such as your home phone, cell phone, street address, etc. was not a legitimate matter of public interest. Such information is irrelevant to the question of how many constituents contacted me about the gun bill or how such communications may have influenced my legislative decision making.

I also did not believe it was in your interest or in the interest of our relationship to release your personal contact information to third parties. The Freedom of Information Act is intended to provide a public record of how and why officials take certain actions. It is not intended to provide mailing or phone lists for people who may have a political or commercial interest in such information.

Unfortunately, the Freedom of Information Commission did not agree and has ordered me, as well as other legislators, to provide all of the information in your e-mails including contact information. The only data we may redact is your e-mail address.

While I hope that those requesting this information will not contact you, it is possible that they may. Obviously, you are free to talk to them, or not.

Please be aware that when you do contact me via e-mail regarding pending legislation any information you provide may be made public. I share this with you not to discourage your input, but rather to make you aware of what can be shared with others. I will continue to make myself available via e-mail at [email protected] and phone at 860-240-8800 and I hope to continue hearing from you so that I can effectively represent our community.