- Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom
City IT Director John Barker talks to city employees about emails during a Sunshine Week workshop Friday, March 16, 2012, at Nashua City Hall.
- Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom
City IT Director John Barker talks about saving emails Friday, March 16, 2012, during a Sunshine Week workshop at Nashua City Hall.
City workshop looks at email, tweets, Facebook as part of public record
NASHUA – State and local workers should be careful in crafting emails, as well as tweets and posts on Facebook or other social media.
It’s all part of the public record, Nashua City Clerk Paul Bergeron said.
New forms of communication can present problems for government workers, who don’t necessarily know which forms must be kept versus those that can be trashed.
Bergeron and two of his colleagues tried to answer some of those questions Friday morning at City Hall during a workshop about email management and the Right to Know Law. Bergeron organizes the presentation every year to coincide with Sunshine Week, the national initiative focused on open government and freedom of information.
“Governments are still trying to get their heads around how to manage email and social media,” he said. “There’s a whole realm of records people haven’t even started to address.”
With employee turnover, there has to be constant training every year, Bergeron said. He has led city workshops on the Right to Know Law since 2008 and plans to continue them each year during Sunshine Week.
Nashua is also in the process of buying new financial and document management software, which would offer tools for record-keeping. But all city employees still need to know the laws and what records to keep, he said.
Email is a big one. The average office worker receives 100-120 email messages every day, Bergeron said, and each of those is considered part of the public record.
“Email is tricky,” said Dory Clark, a city attorney who spoke at the workshop. “It’s a hybrid, and we just have to make sure we treat it appropriately and seriously like our other public records.”
“We often think of it as a conversation in the hallway, Bergeron said, “but we need to treat it as formal correspondence.”
Emails fall into one of three retention categories: transitory, temporary and permanent.
Transitory messages are mostly spam or unsolicited emails that can be deleted immediately.
Temporary messages can expire after a few months or as far down the line as 50 years, such as personnel recommendations for retirements or terminations.
Permanent correspondences include board and committee minutes, city ordinances and city investigations, among others.
Bergeron and city IT Director John Barker outlined the categories Friday, but they stressed that anyone with questions about a particular email should save it and follow up with the legal department.
“When in doubt, keep it,” Bergeron said. “You want to err on the side of complying with state law.”
Right-to-know requests aren’t necessarily common throughout the year. Bergeron said the city produced about eight or nine responses last year – most of those to The Telegraph. But it’s helpful for city employees to know the law and be aware of its importance.
“The management of records is an individual responsibility; you have to own that,” Barker said. “I know some people don’t like email, but it’s the modern world. It’s a strategic resource for us. It’s an essential part of communication.
“But there’s a huge amount of email. That’s where it becomes an issue around management and retention.”
The city has more than 7 million documents on its file server, and only 10 percent to 20 percent of those have “any value at all,” Barker said.
“The hard part is figuring that out and narrowing it down,” he said. “You have to make it part of your daily activities or you cannot handle it.”
Gary Girolimon, IT director in the Goffstown School District, drove to Nashua with a few colleagues to hear the presentation and learn more about the retention requirements.
He said email management can be difficult, especially with the volume of messages today and the constant mixture of personal and business conversations. It can be hard to know what to keep and what to toss, he said.
Bergeron’s presentation helped answer some of those questions, he said.
City Planning Director Roger Houston said the workshop is a great way to keep everyone informed about the importance of public records.
“It’s a good refresher course,” he said. “There’s always changes in the laws, and there’s a lot more things coming at us.”
That includes social media, instant chats and text messages, which can be harder to keep track of, but local and state governments consider them public records.
“The medium does not matter; it’s the information that counts,” Clark said.
Many local and state governments have taken snapshots of the different websites and saved them on the computer to keep those communications as records, he said, but the technology is always evolving, which makes the records process difficult.
Few government officials have official Twitter accounts or Facebook pages, but Bergeron said that’s more an issue of time than a lack of understanding or fear of record-keeping.
“Managing another form of media may be more than we’re able to take on,” he said. “Part of it, too, is that younger people are a little more adept and conversant in social media than older folks are.”
The only city department with a Facebook page is the Office of Emergency Management, Bergeron said, although there are some other notable examples of Greater Nashua officials and agencies on social media.
Alderman Mark Cookson posts often on Twitter (@AldermanCookson), while the town of Litchfield posts on a town-operated Facebook page and on Twitter (@LitchfieldNH).
Several local police departments and state agencies have accounts, as well.
Bergeron said it won’t be long before social media is widespread among local and state governments.
“Some part of government is always a little behind the usage curve,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time before more and more local and state governments use social media.”
Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow Kittle on Twitter (@Telegraph_CamK).