Jan 5, 2010

Howell Education Association (HEA) email case may have far reaching effects

LANSING -- The email case involving the Howell Education Association (HEA) representing the teachers and Howell Public Schools could set precedent and have far reaching effects.

The Michigan Court of Appeals took oral arguments today on the case involving a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) for some 5,500 emails sent and received on HPS computers between union members. The district contends that because they were using an email box owned by the school, they are public record and subject to FOIA.

The teacher’s union contends that they are not subject to FOIA because they do not meet the scope of FOIA in that they do not affect the performance of a public body. The school district had said all along that the teachers have a recognized right to use the computers, but any written communications on a public computer is subject to public disclosure.

“Certainly, this does not do what the FOIA was intended to do,”said the attorney representing the HEA.”Thousands of these emails are a personal and harmless as ‘I’ll meet you at McDonalds.’”

The hearing before the three judge panel was a lively debate on the future of technology and FOIA, and it may come down to defining how electronic communications and technology fits into FOIA. The issue was broached in the text messages scandal that brought down Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

“What you are telling me is that this is a question of technology,” said Judge Douglas B. Shapiro. “Private communications are private if it’s put in a mailbox, but it’s not of it’s in an email.”

The case came about when rightwing blogger and anti-union activist Chet Zarko went on a fishing expedition in May of 2007 when he submitted a FOIA request in cahoots with Howell school board member Wendy Day to find dirt to embarrass the union with. He accused the HEA of abusing taxpayer-funded resources to promote union causes, but the district said the union had a recognized right to use the computers and email.

In October of 2008 Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Latreille determined that the e-mails written by union leaders on school computers are public record, but he appointed a special master to review the emails to be released. The HEA appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals.

The HEA said the district’s claim that just because they are on pubic computers maintained and owned by the district they are public record was faulty by comparing it to a student’s locker. Student lockers are owned and maintained by the school district, but the written record by students - including love letters - are not public record. The HEA also said union members have used the old-fashioned office mailboxes in the school office to pass personal and union messages, but those are also not public record. Emails should not be either.

“For years the union has used the school mail box to send notes, letters and newsletters that are not subject to FOIA,” said the attorney representing the HEA.

Under the school district’s position, even emails sent from and to personal lap top computers would be subject to FOIA if they used the district Wi-Fi.

The Court took testimony and written briefs, but they did not rule on the issue.


Chetly Zarko said...

Again, you misrepresent as fact that I somehow knew or collaborated with Wendy Day.

I did not know Ms. Day before this FOIA request and had never met her, to my knowledge, though I have met her casually since now that we are aware of each other. I did not collaborate with her on this FOIA nor did anyone in Howell know, let alone approve or work with me on the request. Reportorial-citizen-journalist instinct drove my thinking process, as I've repeated a number of times.

Again, I remind you of the distinction between libel and opinion. Accusing me falsely of being "in cahoots" with someone is moving away from opinion and closing in on factual misrepresentation. I'm not likely to litigate at this point, but want the record to reflect and to remind you personally that you simply are misrepresenting the issue and facts here.

Communications guru said...

The facts say otherwise. You are anything but a reporter-citizen-journalist, and what you are is an anti-teacher union activist.

I stand by what I wrote. Sue me for libel all you want. The best defense against libel is the truth, and I am correct, you are or were in cahoots with Day.

Chetly Zarko said...

It's untrue - you have never presented an iota of evidence otherwise - but as I stated, a libel suit isn't likely because frankly, it'd be a waste of my time and you gratify your ego.

If I want to be a citizen journalist, I am. You can deny that, but I've never seen an objective way of saying people aren't citizen journalists - in fact, I believe every citizen is or at least can be (you are when you relay political news word of mouth - or at least citizen reporter since journal implies writing). Furthermore, I've been published by many respected mainstream sources - the Wall Street Journal, Michigan Bar Journal, and others - so I think most rational people would admit I have some appropriate claim to that title even if interpreted somewhat elitist-ly as you have. I presume we agree that I am a citizen - look up the definitions of reporter or journalist and tell me I don't meet the broad definitions of those terms.

As to anti-teacher, that's your opinion. My opinion is that I'm a pro-(individual)-teacher, pro-education, activist. It seems we agree that I am also an activist at times. Nothing wrong with that.

Chetly Zarko said...

That's wierd - the technology repeated my entry but assigned it your name. Software glitch.

Communications guru said...

It is true, and I presented the evidence - what, two years ago- that you contacted Day. You can go ahead and sue for libel; your attempt at intimidation does not work on me. Even you know the defense of libel is the truth, and it’s a fact you and Day are in cahoots.

I’ll grant it that you’re a citizen, but you’re not a journalist or a reporter. Yes, you are anti-teacher and anti-union and your actions prove that.