Ward 4 Councilmembers Jeanne Rhoades and Scott Saunders are using their column in the city's July newsletter to clear up what they feel are lingering misconceptions from the April 2012 campaign season regarding use of city email databases.
Editor's Note: In the Mayor's race,
The following column is republished with permission from the City of Creve Coeur's July newsletter.
We are entering the dog days of summer and the April elections seem long passed. However, a few controversies that arose during the recent campaign season still remain outstanding. One topic is the use of email for e-bulletins, versus how citizen contact information resulting from communications to and from the City is handled.
Unfortunately, based on widely dispersed public statements made during the mayoral campaign, it appears state laws and City policies concerning these two separate forms of citizen communication are not clear – even among some public officials! But because privacy issues are very important to everyone, we would like to use this column to address any confusion that remains.
First of all, Missouri’s statutes recognize that electing representatives is inherently crucial to the democratic process, and thus enable candidates to reach out to voters by means of a formal campaign. The campaign process is governed by our state’s ethics laws, and overseen by the Missouri Ethics Commission. These laws recognize that political messages and/or campaign material are different from any other forms of solicitation, and as a result, distribution of campaign material is both somewhat regulated and protected.
These laws likewise provide a means for candidates to access voter lists and traditional contact information through voter registries (such as our own St. Louis County Board of Elections) – though expressly prohibiting the use of such information for any other commercial purpose. These registries provide voter name, address, precinct – and even each voter’s history of participation in elections, though of course with no indication of what votes were cast.
Next, the City has established an e-bulletin system via a professional service to facilitate an efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally-friendly means of distributing oneway public communications to residents, businesses and other interested persons. The City’s “LISTSERVE” list of email addresses is solely derived by voluntary sign-up of recipients – with absolutely no data collected to link each email address to actual names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, or any other form of personal identification.
In addition, the City clearly provides an “unsubscribe” link on each e-bulletin, plus notice that, “Subscribers should be aware that the City of Creve Coeur email notification subscription lists are a matter of public record and may be subject to disclosure under applicable Missouri and/or federal statute(s).”
Meanwhile, emails from residents that contact City officials about specific inquiries or concerns are required by state record retention laws to be kept on file by the City, and thus are also subject to state Sunshine laws. However, these email addresses, and/or any other contact information included (names, address, or phone numbers), are neither centrally catalogued in any way, nor added to the City’s “LISTSERVE” e-bulletin list, unless specifically requested. (Trustee lists are an exception of citizen contact information that is, by definition, compiled.)
Finally, many candidates and public officials at all levels of government now use professional email services as an efficient and more secure means to distribute one-way news bulletins or campaign material to constituents and/or voters – which typically include an “unsubscribe” link on each message as well. (In fact, Scott uses such a service on his own Council e-newsletter, which has been very well received.)
For better or for worse, the campaign process is a necessary part of representative government. However, it is unfortunate whenever false and misleading rhetoric is deliberately used to create public confusion among citizens and even the media. We certainly do not condone that type of conduct, and we hope this column provides some assurance that the City’s existing policies reflect respect for each person’s privacy and security – particularly regarding email – while ensuring all necessary compliance with state laws.
Editor's Note: Creve Coeur City Council members have been invited, along with anyone else interested, to write a Creve Coeur Patch blog to inform residents of city activities and/or their campaigns.