Chino Valley Officials’ Texts and Emails Must Be Disclosed On All Public Matters

By Marissa Mitchell

Chino Valley, CA – In early March, the California Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision to disclose all public-related information regardless of source, a cause supported by open-government advocates.  Cities in and around Chino Valley are looking to comply with said ruling, which generally forces public employees, including politicians, to share texts and emails to public record, even when they come from personal devices.

This ruling came from a long-standing 8-year battle after the city of San Jose refused to release “private” texts and emails to a public records request. These texts and emails, sent by officials, discussed a downtown development project. According to the new ruling, the court stated that communication sent on personal cell phones and computers must be disclosed to the public if they “relate in some substantive way to the conduct of the public’s business.”

In response, the city of Chino Hills has set up email accounts for all public commissions, and is provided a training workshop on Monday May 22 at 7 p.m. in council chambers. Assistant City Attorney Elizabeth Calciano will commence with the training that day.

Now, public officials will be subject to scrutiny on multiple levels. The thought is that they will be disinclined to conduct public business on personal devices or avoid scrutiny.

California Supreme Court Judge Carol A. Corrigan wrote of this recent ruling, “A city employee’s communications related to the conduct of public business do not cease to be public records just because they were sent or received using a personal account.

In the city of Chino, email accounts will be issued to the planning commission, but not to the community services commission because it is not a “decision-making authority,” according to spokeswoman Monica Gutierrez. Even prior to the San Jose court ruling, the city of Chino established a policy encouraging the use of city-issued cell phones and other such devices.

The Chino policy stipulates that all communication on city-issued equipment is subject to perusal at any time, and open to monitoring and public record requests.

The Chino Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Brenda Dunkle stated the district is awaiting recommendations in the middle of May from the CSBA (California School Boards Association) regarding this ruling.  She also stated that the district’s current technology use policy declares that any device accessing the district’s network is not private, whether used on site or off.

Fire Chief Time Shackelford stated he has iterated to his personnel only to use fire district servers and accounts to correspond, create, or store documents and communications related to district business. Training will also be provided for fire station employees.

Various news media representatives have called the decision “a resounding victory for the public.” This new ruling sends a strong message that public officials and employees cannot evade public scrutiny by using personal accounts.

Local governments have expressed concerns about invasion of privacy for its workers, so further concrete details are to come from the California Supreme Court on just how to go about this monitoring. Executive director of the First Amendment Coalition David Synder stated, “If employees are conducting written business about the people’s business on email, that ought to be available to the public. It shouldn’t matter if the email is privately owned or owned by the government.”