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9/30/2015
Council backs away from separate email

“At this time, council does not support the cost of a secure system,” said Councilman Bob Weiner, who presented the motion.

The proposal council rejected would have seen a private business administer their email and computer service. They also debated setting up just email services through a cloud service like Google. Such a system would cost $7,000 annually, but council members feared it would not be as secure as a completely separate system.

Weiner said he has no intention of presenting the proposal again, or pushing a motion to set up email address through another online service. Council members have previously argued the switch was necessary to preserve the separation of powers between the two branches.

 

Council backs away from separate email

Xerxes Wilson, The News Journal September 30, 2015

Some members of New Castle County Council want to split their email system from the server that can be monitored by County Executive Tom Gordon. Gordon insists he does not read individual council members’ emails.

Story Highlights

• County Executive Tom Gordon’s interpretation of state law permits him or any of his appointees to search and review any email in the county’s system without notice.

• The council would have received new email addresses and computer systems which Gordon’s office would only be able to access through a Freedom of Information Act request

The New Castle County Council Executive Committee on Tuesday voted down a motion to split its email from the system administered by the county executive’s office, following months of fighting between the two branches over control of information.

The council would have received new email addresses and computer systems which Gordon’s office would only be able to access through a Freedom of Information Act request, But council members were concerned by the cost.

The new system would have cost taxpayers $105,000 annually. The council already transfers about $100,000 from its budget to the executive branch for technology services. During the meeting, it was unclear whether those charges would be offset by the new service. Councilman George Smiley, who chairs the council’s Finance Committee, said the proposal would require council to dip into its reserves.

“At this time, council does not support the cost of a secure system,” said Councilman Bob Weiner, who presented the motion.

The proposal council rejected would have seen a private business administer their email and computer service. They also debated setting up just email services through a cloud service like Google. Such a system would cost $7,000 annually, but council members feared it would not be as secure as a completely separate system. “I think we have to go to a completely separate system to really be secure,” said Councilwoman Lisa Diller.

Weiner said he has no intention of presenting the proposal again, or pushing a motion to set up email address through another online service. Council members have previously argued the switch was necessary to preserve the separation of powers between the two branches.

Under the current system, Gordon’s interpretation of state law permits him or any of his appointees to search and review any email in the county’s system without notice. Gordon claims he hasn’t searched individual council members’ correspondence.

The council previously passed legislation that make searches of legislative branch emails a misdemeanor, and would fire non-elected government employees caught accessing those emails. Gordon vetoed the legislation, but said he supports council separating their system.

Control over access to government emails has become a national debate with controversy over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails becoming a common attack subject for opponents of the presidential candidate.

The debate has also been tense in New Castle County, with council members accusing members of Gordon’s administration of fishing into the County Auditor’s emails seeking dirt as revenge for a controversial audit of the policies that dictate how the county invests its tax reserves.

Auditor Bob Wasserbach is an employee of the County Council and lawyers for the council and executive branch have sparred over whether his emails should be made public before the executive branch exposed the correspondence.

The News Journal covered the bickering over the audit, legal battle over emails and controversy created by Wasserbach’s emails in a three-part series in May.

“Person or persons in the administration went on a fishing expedition; the problem we have as a council is they caught something,” Councilman Jea Street said describing the controversy in May.

 

 

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