Council Warned Against Hitting “Reply To All”
West U.’s new city council received a brief open meeting law reminder from City Attorney Alan Petrov recently which included a warning concerning e-mails. Petrov told council members that discussion of city business should be done through city e-mail, and to be careful when hitting “reply to all,” which could lead to an open meeting violation.
Petrov told council that the public information act makes any e-mail relating to city business public information – even if it was sent by the councilmember’s personal cell phone or e-mail account.
“The easy way to solve that is to send e-mails through your city e-mail account,” Petrov told council.
He also warned that hitting “reply to all” on an e-mail addressed to enough council members to constitute a quorum is a violation of the open meetings act and could qualify as what is known as a “walking quorum.”
“You can’t have a discussion n city business in numbers of a quorum or more, even if a quorum is not present physically all at one point in time,” said Petrov. “You can create a quorum by a series of communications…now it’s real easy to do with e-mails, just hit reply to all or forward. All of a sudden you have an e-mail quorum.”
Councilman Chuck Guffey asked if it was alright for one councilman to send an e-mail to another, and Petrov advised against it.
“I would caution against that because it can be passed on,” said Petrov. “It’s not something you want to be caught up in. With respect to e-mails, be careful – the law is still evolving…for now, be careful who you send e-mails to, how many people you send them to and where you send them from.”
Councilman Steven Segal wanted to know if it was legal to reply to all when a resident asks a specific question and copies all council members.
“I would avoid that,” said Petrov.