C-K staff reading e-mails to council

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A municipal e-mail policy – which quietly reroutes correspondence between elected officials and constituents to include administration – has some members of Chatham-Kent council fuming.

Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman said Monday he would try to get the policy, which is less than a month old, reversed as soon as possible.

“I don’t think it’s right and I don’t think it was thought through at all,” he said. “The public should know that if they send an e-mail to council as a whole, it’s also going to members of administration. I’m extremely upset that this was done without council’s knowledge or approval.”

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Sulman said the presumption of confidentiality between council and the public has been breached and needs to be repaired.

Councillors received notification May 26 that the e-mail council@chatham-kent.ca

had been modified to include the offices of CAO Don Shropshire and Chief Legal Officer John Norton.

Shropshire said Monday that the change was initiated because some council members had assumed that administration was being notified already.

“There were issues which council believed we knew about, but which in fact we didn’t,” he said. “It was done to ensure we were getting the information needed to address issues.”

Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy is also opposed to the change and is upset his concerns on the subject weren’t addressed.

“I e-mailed administration and haven’t heard anything back,” he said. “I’d like to at least think I would have received the courtesy of a response.”

Bondy said the change could adversely reflect on the public’s faith in council.

“There is an understanding that constituents have the ability to speak to us individually or as a whole without administration being involved,” he said. “We are the neutral middle ground if someone has a problem with staff. We have to have that role, and it simply doesn’t work if someone has an issue with staff that it goes directly to staff. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.”

Sulman said he’s concerned about the perception of council’s authority.

“We’re not just here to cut ribbons,” he said. “Councillors are responsible to the public. This could appear to be an attempt to neuter council.”

Bondy said if the policy remains unchanged, “What are we (as councillors) here for?

Why don’t we just turn the municipality over to staff?”

The memo indicates that individual council e-mails are not being monitored but doesn’t solve the issue, Sulman said.

“We need to be up front and transparent. This just isn’t good enough.”

Wallaceburg Coun. Carmen McGregor said she’s in agreement that the public should be given options in correspondence and be fully aware of where e-mails are going. “Some councillors have proposed that there be an e-mail address which goes to staff and administration,” she said. “There is more than one option here. The subject needs to be explored further.”

Shropshire said staff would follow council’s direction on the matter.

“We haven’t heard back from all councillors and once council decides on a course of action, we will make that happen,” he said. “It’s totally council’s decision.”

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