slfisher 0 Posting Whiz

Remember the Idaho elected official a few weeks back who got in trouble for forwarding a message, comparing Michelle Obama to a black widow spider, to 26 people from his official email account?

It gets better.

The Kuna-Melba News, a weekly paper that covers western Ada County and eastern Canyon County, is reporting that Canyon County has refused a Freedom of Information request for the messages Canyon County Commissioner Steve Rule sent out from his county email account on Dec. 2, comparing First Lady-elect Michelle Obama to a black widow spider.

“I understand from Commissioner Rule that he does not retain sent email,” the paper reported it was told. “I also consulted with the County IT Department and understand that Commissioner Rule’s sent emails are not archived by them.”

The paper reported that it had filed one FOI request on Dec. 15, asking for a copy of all of Rule’s sent e-mails for the months of October and November. “Two days after the Dec. 15 request was referred to the Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Samuel B. Laugheed sent a letter to the Kuna Melba News on Dec. 17, seeking an extension of the deadline on my request,” the paper reported. “On Dec. 29, Laugheed sent another letter, denying the request for information.”

Thinking that perhaps the email messages had been automatically deleted after 30 days, the paper re-filed the request on Dec. 29, asking for sent email from December. According to the paper, Laugheed sent a response on Dec. 31: “As previously stated in our December 29, 2008, letter responding to your request of December 15, 2008, I understand from Commissioner Rule that he does not retain sent email.”

Aside from this particular issue, it raises troubling questions about oversight of Canyon County government. Really? Canyon County commissioners are not required to save email messages they send out from their official account? And the county government organization doesn’t archive them, either?

So what happens if a county commissioner sends out something patently illegal or unethical from their account? They’re off the hook by not saving it? How many other governmental organizations would allow this?

Moreover, this opens Canyon County up to serious -- and potentially expensive -- legal issues. The rules for electronic discovery and evidence in civil cases were changed as of Dec. 2006, and throwing up your hands and saying, “We don’t have them” is no longer taken as an excuse by judges.