Missouri AG: E-mails are public records

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Attorney General Jay Nixon's office says government e-mails are public records and must be preserved -- a contrast with Gov. Matt Blunt's staff members, who delete some e-mails they do not consider public records.

James Klahr, the attorney general's lead Sunshine Law attorney, sent a message Monday to Missouri media saying: "There should be no debate -- e-mail communications are public records."

Klahr's message contained an Internet link to a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch story about the e-mail purging in Blunt's office.

"Recent events and media accounts have triggered an unnecessary debate over whether e-mails are considered public records and subject to Missouri's open records laws," said Klahr, adding that the attorney general's office has consistently advised people that government e-mails are public records.

A provision of state law says many correspondences and interoffice memos from state officials must be saved for up to three years.

E-mails are preserved by some other state officials, including Republican Treasurer Sarah Steelman, Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and Democratic Auditor Susan Montee. Steelman, for example, has an information technology section to preserve records for the office, including e-mails.

Nixon, a Democrat, is running for governor against Blunt, a Republican.

Klahr's message to media said the attorney general's office "will be redoubling our education efforts to ensure members of the public and government officials" understand that the Sunshine Law applies to e-mails.

State law gives the attorney general, local prosecutors and the public the power to sue over Sunshine Law violations.

Blunt's office had no immediate comment about Klahr's Sunshine law message.

The e-mail issue comes at a time when the Missouri Republican Party has launched its own Sunshine Law battles. The state GOP has used the law to obtain dozens of e-mails from Nixon and Carnahan.

On Monday, the Republican Party sued the Missouri Ethics Commission, accusing it of violating the Sunshine Law by holding a closed-door discussion before voting on how to apply a recent Supreme Court decision on campaign contribution limits.

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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