The Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) recently held that emails about political action taken by the Easton Board of Selectman, as they sought to refute statements from political opponents, did not constitute a violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
A complaint was filed with the FOIC alleging that the Board of Selectman had violated the FOIA by participating in an illegal meeting to compose, sign and agree to send, as selectman, a jointly signed letter for publication in the Easton Courier. This letter was in response to a flyer that had been distributed town-wide by a political action committee that commented negatively about the selectman, their decisions and the town.
In its ruling, the FOIC distinguished between communications which involved the work of the Board of Selectman as opposed to purely “political” communications. The FOIC found that the emails concerning this letter did not constitute a communication about subject matter “over which the respondents had supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory.” Rather, the emails involved political action in response to political adversaries. As a result of this distinction, the FOIC did not find that the emails between the selectman constituted an illegal meeting.
While it will not always be possible to distinguish between purely political communications as opposed to communications which involve, at least in part, matters related to governing, this ruling by the FOIC does give elected officials some relief from what can be almost impossible restrictions when it comes to electronic communications. However, while this type of communication may not constitute an “illegal meeting” pursuant to the FOIA, public officials are well advised to remember that these emails are accessible via a simple FOIA request.