in Houston, Texas
Fort Worth ISD tech policy raises trustee’s hackles
Tuesday, Oct 04, 2011, 01:47PM CST
By Lee Ann O'Neal
mouse

Fort Worth ISD Trustee Ann Sutherland, who opposes a policy change governing board members’ use of district technology, found herself the subject of a Star-Telegram editorial over the weekend blasting the “whopping problems” with her argument.

The technology policy, approved by the board last week over Sutherland’s objections, outlines acceptable use, limits the district’s liability for a board member’s “inappropriate use,” and makes clear that board members’ e-mail messages “shall not be considered private” and can be monitored by tech staff. For Sutherland, this last detail was the rub.

“I do not think it is proper for staff to have carte blanche to look at our e-mails and our documents, and I do not think it is in the board's interest to require us to keep all our documents in case someone wants to look at them,” Sutherland said. “So I urge a 'no' vote, and furthermore, if it passes, I'm not going to do it.”

Other board members suggested that they simply don’t use their publicly-funded email to send messages that would cause embarrassment, and underscored that the e-mail records are public, anyway, under the Texas Public Information Act.

“Any e-mail I place on the system can go anywhere,” Trustee Christene Moss said. “Any time you're using someone else's system like the taxpayers' dollars, I think it's going to have to be open.”

We think Moss’s framework is a good one, especially given the way that e-mail lapses can distract from the public business at hand. We also recall that e-mail records are frequently important pieces of the puzzle in terms of how the public’s business is conducted.

In watching the full video, it appears that Sutherland is genuinely concerned about some type of nefarious use of board members’ e-mail records, and a commenter on the Star-Telegram site identifying herself as Sutherland expounds on this point.

“There are times that I believe that they have been meddled with inappropriately,” she said during the meeting, adding that she had no proof.

As the Star-Telegram points out, Sutherland’s position is premised on the faulty assumption that the records belong first to her.

“Sutherland apparently has assumed that she has some kind of privacy interest in the e-mails she writes on a computer provided by taxpayers regarding district operations,” the Star-Telegram opines. “She doesn't.”

***
Contact Lee Ann O’Neal at 713-980-9777 or leeann@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of mouse by flickr user Ross Franklin, used via a Creative Commons license.
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