Aldermen should adopt new cyber policy

Published 7:26 pm Saturday, September 17, 2016

The City of Brookhaven is moving in the right direction with a proposed change to its policy on computer use.

City attorney Joe Fernald recently presented the Board of Aldermen with the proposed changes that include preventing city employees from using personal accounts for official business. Another change will allow the city to investigate if a city employee is suspected of using a city computer to publish information — presumably on social media — about another employee.

Why does this matter? Per state law, the emails of public employees are considered public record, even if they use their personal accounts to conduct city business. From a transparency standpoint, it’s important for the public to see how city officials conduct business, even when it’s done electronically.

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It’s tough for the public to do that when officials use personal email accounts to handle city business. Just a few months ago, this newspaper requested the emails of city officials. It turns out granting that records request was a huge undertaking since Fernald had to examine private email accounts to determine if any emails pertained to city businesses.

The city eventually turned over the requested emails but it took longer than state law allows. If the city adopts the proposed change, that process will be much easier.

The policy will also protect city employees. No one wants their personal email accounts subjected to a public records search, but that could occur if city employees continue to use personal accounts to handle public business.

We support the proposed changes and hope the new policy is quickly adopted. It will lead to a more transparent government. That will benefit the city, its employees and its residents.