Madison City Attorney Mike May thinks it's no big whoop that the state Supreme Court recently ordered records custodians to prune out the personal content of emails sent and received by government employees on their work computers. While the case was pending, his office filed an amicus brief supporting this result.
But requesters are still entitled to some information (number, frequency, length) about these emails. And on a recent Wisconsin Eye program, May wondered aloud whether media will now be making open records requests for, say, "all the personal emails that attorney May sent out between March and April of this year."
Good idea. Thanks.
Isthmus' actual request was much narrower, seeking May's personal emails from a single day, July 16, when the Supremes issued their ruling. In a four-page letter of explanation (PDF), he reported getting or sending 84 emails, of which at least 60 would be protected on grounds of attorney-client privilege.
Of the remaining emails, May identified five he considers personal - that is, having "no relationship" to his role and duties as city attorney. All were sent to him, not by him.
Three of the emails concerned May's membership in the Madison Rotary. This included a club newsletter that May decided to release, feeling that since "some important public presentations" take place at Rotary, the newsletter was "enough related to my duties as city attorney" to merit release. May also released the other two, but blacked out the names and email addresses of other recipients.
The fourth email was a spam solicitation offering Viagra. May deemed this as having no relation to his official duties and thus not subject to release. But "just for fun, I am giving you a copy anyway - so long as I do not see an Isthmus headline, 'City Attorney Declines Viagra Offer.'" Fair enough.
Finally, the released emails included an invitation from Janet Piraino, the mayor's chief of staff, to get together a small group for cocktails after work, July 16 being a Friday.
"In normal circumstances, I would probably consider this totally personal and would not release it," May writes. "However, after consulting with Ms. Piraino, we determined that we would provide it anyway, so you do not speculate on what was said."
In the email, Piraino refers to wanting to "celebrate surviving the week from hell" at a local bar, whose name May redacted (speculate away!). May was unable to attend this post-hell week celebration, and later learned that none of the four other invitees did either.
The moral of the story? It seems that deciding what is and isn't public actually requires a fair amount of time and thought. And in fact May wanted to be more open than the recent ruling requires - because it's really the contents of the emails that are no big whoop.