Town Counsel Paul DeRensis met with Governance chair Christine Cunning and her committee for over two and a half hours Monday night regarding the legal ramifications of their work on changes to the Town Manager Act.
A lively and interesting discussion revolved around part of the present act that states, in the original Act. Especially, because Selectman Martha Gjesteby is challenging the right of the town manager to “troll” thorough her E-mail and has filed a complaint with the Attorney General.
The town manager shall have access to all municipal books, papers and documents or information necessary for the proper performance of the duties of said town manager. Said town manager may, without notice, cause the affairs of any division or department under the manager’s supervision or the conduct of any officer or employee thereof to be examined.
DeRensis said “There are some things the town manager should not have access to, such as e-mails between town counsel and the board relating to the town manager. “You don’t want the town manager having access everything.” He suggested adding the words “non-privileged” and “non-personal” before the word information in the above paragraph. “Should the Town Manager be reading e-mails? You have a statue saying he has the right to do this. Your statute says Give me everybody’s password.”
Acting Town Manager Mike Milanoski said the town’s tech office screens all the information. “The privileged thing is no brainer. The personal thing has to be defined a lot better.”
When asked how the Town of Sherborn (where DeRensis is a Selectman) handles the privacy issues, DeRensis said: We adopted a computer use policy. Only the Town’s information office can look into it, and it has to be signed by the Police Chief.” DeRensis added “A former town manager (Mike Coughlin) may have a complete set of attorney client privileged documents. Under this statute he will say he has the right to it. Cohasset’s statute authorizes the Town Manager to have unlimited access to everything.” (Hull has nothing in its Town Manager Act like this statute.)
“Government should not intrude without a warrant. And people shouldn’t use E-mails for personal stuff, but they do. It’s going to happen, it’s part of the municipal system, but it should not be looked at by one person,” DeRensis said.
Jack Keniley said he liked of non-personal and non-privileged information as being the only information that could be perused.
The question then arose regarding whom would decide what information was non-personal land non-privileged. Milanoski? The information officer?
DeRensis said: “Do you want the town manager empowered 24 hours a day access, total unlimited access to all information without any restrictions? You’re asking the Legislature to empower one town official (in Cohasset) to be able to access everybody’s e-mails, every sewer commissioner’s e-mail, the town clerk’s e-mails.” He explained that this statute also allowed the Town Manager to rummage through employee’s desk drawers – nothing was off limits at Town Hall. DeRensis noted that in 2010 the Commonwealth took Privacy very seriously and created a statute to protect individuals.
George McGoldrich said: “This is too big for this discussion.”
Sam Wakeman said: There’s a good reason why he shouldn’t have access.”
DeRensis said “Cohasset has a specific problem. The former town manager may have thousands of E-mails. You need a door. Closing the barn door after the horse has escaped is too late.”
Milanoski said he didn’t have access to anybody’s E-mail. When asked (by me) how he got access to the e-mail in contention in the Gjesteby complaint, Milanoski said he gave the information officer a series of parameters to see if anybody was sending anything out from the executive site, when the e-mail Gjesteby sent to a confident popped up.
More on Town Counsel’s recommendations later this week, but before Governance meets Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m. where they plan to further discuss this issue