The Republican’s answer to a problem caused by technology brought to light by an anti-teacher’s union witch-hunt is a bill that goes after unions.
The late anti-union activist Chet Zarko launched a fishing expedition back in 2007 by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the help of teabagger and former Howell School Board member Wendy Day seeking emails to embarrass the Howell teacher’s union.
Zarko, who passed away last summer, claimed the emails were sent on district computers during staff time, and they were used to lobby the public during contract negotiations. The district released some emails, but an injunction was issued stopping Zarko from receiving any more of the 5,500 emails.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in January of 2010 that the emails sent and received on Howell Public School computers between union members were not public record, and they concluded that under the current FOIA statute the individual teacher’s personal emails were not rendered public records solely because they were captured in the email system’s digital memory. They also said this was unexamined ground in the law, and that this is an issue for the Legislature to address.
So, on January 13, freshman state Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, introduced House Bill 4052 that would ban the use of taxpayer-funded e-mail servers for public employee collective bargaining, and, according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, which has devoted tons of column inches to this story, “appears to address concerns that teachers' unions — including the Howell Education Association — might use school computers to conduct union business.”
The bill would apply to all public employees and public employee collective-bargaining units that have access to public e-mail servers.
When the Court of Appeals ruled last January, it said that under the FOIA statute the individual plaintiffs’ personal emails were not rendered public records solely because they were captured in the email system’s digital memory. In other words, something as harmless as an invitation to a colleague’s retirement party that was once just placed in a teacher’s cubbyhole would now be a public record if was sent via email; even if it was sent on a private computer using a private email address as long as it was sent using wireless provided by the district.
Perhaps the most ridiculous thing in the story were the comments by Rep. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, who co-sponsored the bill and who Zarko worked for when he passed away.
"Chet certainly was all about FOIA, transparency, full disclosure of how government spends its money and the activities of government, making sure the taxpayer is aware of what's happening to their tax dollars," Knollenberg told the P & A.No, this was at attempt to smear the teacher’s union. I said it when I first started blogging about this back in 2007, and it is still true.
It’s also telling that the only other people the paper chose to quote was the righting think tank Mackinac Center, which is footing the legal bills, and the paper failed to mention it was a rightwing think tank.
The reporter did seek a comment from Howell Education Association President Jay McDowell, but he declined to comment because he said he didn't have enough time to analyze the bill.
This is a case that will affect every single school district and teacher’s union in the state, so a better quote to balance the story may have been a quote from the director of governmental affairs for the Michigan Education Association (MEA) or even the president of the MEA.