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7/14/2015
NCCo Council fails to override veto on email monitoring

Councilman Bob Weiner said his office will have a proposal for a separate email system ready for vote in September. He said a separate system would be preferable to Kilpatrick’s legislation.

NCCo Council fails to override veto on email monitoring

Xerxes WIlson, The News Journal 9:43 p.m. EDT July 14, 2015

The New Castle County Council on Tuesday failed to get enough votes to override County Executive Tom Gordon’s veto of restrictions on monitoring of County Council email.

Legislation passed last month would dismiss county executive staff who review council emails. Gordon vetoed the legislation last week, and the council failed to gain the 10 votes in favor of the legislation to override the veto.

The debate follows months of dispute between some council members and the administration over the executive’s authority to review all county government email without a formal request.

The legislation was introduced by Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick and sought to ban employees in county administration from accessing emails sent to or from those in the legislative branch. Those caught doing so would be guilty of a misdemeanor, fired and illegible to work in their position for five years.

Gordon’s veto message to council reinforced what he believes is his legal authority to examine all the “books, papers, records ... of all offices, departments and board which the County Executive supervises.” Gordon did not return a phone call seeking comment on the veto override effort.

Kilpatrick argued for the council’s independence.

“Council is not under his supervision,” Kilpatrick said. “We have a separation of powers.”

Councilman Penrose Hollins supported the failed veto override, saying it would give council employees comfort using the email system. He said the issue could be easily solved if Gordon would agree to block access to legislative branch emails without getting formal permission to view those documents.

“If you are going to go into my email, have the courtesy to ask me,” Hollins said. “To arbitrarily go into the emails is offensive, and I think people want a moderate degree of privacy using email.”

During the council Executive Committee meeting Tuesday, Chief Administrative Officer David Grimaldi said the law is overly broad, potentially exposing the county’s technical staff to legal ramifications. County Attorney Bernard Pepukayi argued there could be legal problems with firing those appointed by the County Executive and those under organized labor contracts.

“I think there is a separation of powers issue going the other way,” Pepukayi said.

Council’s Attorney Carol Dulin disagreed, saying such authority is found “all over the code.”

Councilman Jea Street said he didn’t think the ordinance could be enforced.

“I was hoping we can’t go get our own email system. Two ways this will stop: either we get our own system or go to court. This [legislation] doesn’t resolve it,” Street said.

Council has been seriously debating separating its email server from the system administered by the Gordon’s office for months.

Councilman Bob Weiner said his office will have a proposal for a separate email system ready for vote in September. He said a separate system would be preferable to Kilpatrick’s legislation.

Council members have been arguing with Gordon’s office about what exactly constitutes public information in government emails. Council members have also accused Gordon’s office of abusing the ability to access council staff emails in releasing a trove of Auditor Bob Wasserbach’s messages earlier this year. The News Journal covered the conflict in a three-part series in May.

While government emails are accessible through Freedom of Information Act request, some on the council have argued the county administration’s ability to read their emails without such a request can be abused. They pointed to instances where those in the administration would be able to see information, like attorney-client communication, that would be exempt from FOIA.

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