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City Attorney explains why emails were altered before release to public

Mason City
Mason City

The following information is from the City of Mason City, specifically City Administrator Brent Trout, explaining why public records (emails) were altered and / or delted before release to the public.

From Brent Trout:

The following citation of Iowa Law and guidance from the City Attorney (Randy Nielsen, City Attorney provided the research and opinion) was used to determine that the names and email addresses would be kept confidential:

CONFIDENTIALITY OF COMMUNICATIONS NOT REQUIRED BY LAW

Iowa Code Section 22.7 contains a list of public records that “shall be kept confidential” by the lawful custodian of the records. Included in that list are “communications not required by law … that are made to a government body … to the extent the government body receiving those communications from such persons outside of government could reasonably believe that those persons would be discouraged from making them to that government body if they were available for general public examination.” Iowa Code Section 22.7(18). A request has been made to disclose emails containing the preference of each individual sending the email with respect to the city sanitation department and proposed changes thereto. With respect to these emails, I think that the City could reasonably believe that persons would be discouraged from sending such communications if they knew that their names and/or email addresses would be available for public examination and disclosure. Under such circumstances, such emails “shall be kept confidential” under the express language of the statute.

Section 22.7(18)(a) goes on to state that such communications are public records to the extent the person consents to its treatment as a public record. The senders of these emails did not consent to their communications becoming a public record. A person standing up at a public meeting, identifying themselves and asking to speak in public, have clearly given their consent to their statements becoming a public record.

Finally, Section 22.7(18)(b) states that “the information contained in the communication is a public record to the extent that it can be disclosed without directly or indirectly indicating the identity of the person outside of government making it or enabling others to ascertain the identity of that person.” The contents of the emails, therefore, would be a public record as long as all information containing the identity of the person making the communication, or allowing the person’s identity to be determined, is redacted before public disclosure. This would include redaction of email addresses as such information could be used to identify the individuals making the communications.

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