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Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Governor's E-Mail

A great editorial on the Corzine e-mail flap in New Jersey:

There's a subplot with a touch of irony to the story of Gov. Corzine's refusal to release copies of some of his e-mails. The governor claims that because the requested e-mails didn't involve public business, he doesn't have to make them available to anyone. A judge may decide if the governor is right during a hearing scheduled in a Mercer County courtroom Aug. 3.

The irony involves the legislators who created the state's Open Public Records Act (OPRA) five years ago and who built a loophole into the law big enough to accommodate the entire Statehouse. No. 2 on the list of 24 exemptions from OPRA is "Legislative records."

The exemption is so broad it includes all e-mails of state senators and Assembly representatives, whether the messages refer to official business, list items to pick up at the supermarket or ask a significant other to spend the weekend at the Shore.

So, while Corzine fights a law intended to make government more transparent, state legislators are immunized from requests similar to the one that has raised the governor's hackles. Indeed, legislators are entirely outside the provisions of OPRA. With relatively few exceptions, however, e-mails that circulate among members of local governing bodies and other similar public entities are available as public records.

State legislators should be as accountable as everyone else. After he finishes the fight over his own e-mails, Corzine should push the Legislature to make records at all levels of government more available to the public.

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