Email, at first, might not seem like a political hot button issue.
Although, Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State factored in her loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Now, email accounts have shown up on the Strathcona Regional District agenda. Chief Administrative Officer Dave Leitch told board members that as the Nov. 7 meeting was the inaugural meeting it would be ideal to raise the topic, in part because the SRD had just created new email accounts for board members that day.
“I felt this was an appropriate time to bring this to the board,” he said. “This relates to communication with the SRD and area directors.”
Leitch updated board members that the SRD has created email addresses for all the directors to use instead of personal email accounts.
“There are some directors that are on board already and some aren’t,” he said.
The issue is more than a simple matter of housekeeping for the board because it is linked to freedom of information requests to the SRD.
“Those emails touch our server, and we retain that information,” Leitch said.
The problem, according to a staff report, is when directors use personal email accounts, the regional district cannot automatically comply with Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) disclosure requirements because the SRD would not house all business-related communications covered by the freedom of information law.
Leitch added the regional district has an obligation to provide email addresses for all directors, so it has set up each account to receive email from anyone but with an outbox only a particular director can access.
“Directors should keep their existing email service for personal and non-regional district business,” the report states.
One uncertainty is which official email municipal government representatives sitting on the SRD board should use. Leitch noted the City of Campbell River and Sayward also provide addresses for council members, including those serving on the SRD board. A likely scenario is that the SRD could copy the SRD addresses the Campbell River and other directors of municipal governments use on correspondence sent from municipal government email addresses.
John MacDonald, Sayward’s mayor and director, said their council has started using one generic email address on business to avoid personal email use.
“It’s strictly the one, and I think that would be a good choice here too,” he said.
Some directors on the SRD board have also traditionally preferred their personal email addresses for SRD business rather than any official account. In these cases, Leitch said, the SRD correspondence would go to the new address but be forwarded to a director’s personal address.
Some members of the board had expressed concern over the idea of using the official email.
“I totally said ‘no’ to this from day one,” said Area C Director Jim Abram, though he added he thought having the email forwarded from the new SRD address to his regular account should provide a solution. “Problem solved, so no problem,” he added.
Area A Director Gerald Whalley echoed Abram’s wish to have SRD emails forwarded to his personal account.
Some directors had concerns as to who has access to the accounts. Area B Director Noba Anderson added that, especially with new board members, it would be appropriate for the SRD to provide some kind of education for them around FOIPPA disclosure issues, such as whether generic “housekeeping” emails can be deleted.
”I’d really like to know what the regulations are around FOIPPA,” she said, adding she preferred to hold off using the new email until learning more.
Charlie Cornfield, one of the Campbell River directors, said he preferred to avoid using electronic communication as much as possible and has reservations, adding he wants people to be able to contact him without being limited by the formal SRD address.
“Sometimes we have sources of information, and they need … confidentiality, so I don’t want anybody touching my stuff,” he said. “My own personal stuff, my email account, that’s what I want to see advertised as a way to get a hold of me.”