Q&A: Obtaining community foundation’s emails to city council


From the Shelbyville News:

Q: We have a community foundation that finds itself at the center of budget discussions in Shelbyville. There have been allegations by council members that some pretty heated emails with threatening wording were sent from the foundation’s email addresses to council members. We have made an open records request to the foundation but were notified today that the foundation’s confidentially clause trumps the open records request. Is this legal? 

A: My understanding of this particular community foundation is that it was not created by a local government agency. A public official or body does not appoint its board, and its function in dealing with public funds is governed by a fees-for-service arrangement.

Therefore the foundation isn’t a public agency as defined by the Access to Public Records Act. If it’s not a state or local government agency, then it’s no different than a private business and isn’t required to open its emails to the public or a reporter.

Now the emails you seek, if received by or sent by city council members using a city-owned email account, are a public record of the city of Shelbyville and subject to the Access to Public Records Act.

You should be able to inspect or copying those emails unless the subject matter fits a legal exception that would allow the city council to deny your request under state law.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.