Almanac

News - February 27, 2013

City deletes emails regarding teacher

The gymnastics uproar left parents questioning the legalities of the city erasing emails sent to the council, and what role the City Council played in Ms. Sutton's termination and the deletions.

Not much, as it turns out. "I have received a number of emails from residents in the past week, who seem to be under this misconception that I and my colleagues on council had something to do with Ms. Sutton's dismissal," Councilman Ray Mueller told the Almanac. "Frankly, the matter is a personnel matter that was handled by city management. While it is true I returned a phone call from a resident who called me wishing to register a complaint, beyond receiving the complaint, I did not measure its merits, nor measure whether any disciplinary action was necessary."

As for the city's decision to delete the emails: Mr. Mueller asked that anyone concerned about any part of this issue write directly to his council account at rdmueller@menlopark.org.

"I will collect them all, I will not delete them, and I will give them to the city manager," Mr. Mueller said.

Whether the city even has legal standing to destroy the emails remains questionable.

"It's ludicrous," said Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. "They've taken the phrase 'tortured logic' to a new level."

State law requires that records be kept a minimum of two years. In addition, he said, "these are just comments; it's as if these individuals are petitioning the government to influence a decision."

In other words, it's just like what happens at every council meeting when a member of the public comments. The remarks are saved for posterity in the form of minutes and video recordings, which are archived on the city's website.

Even if the emails contained confidential personnel information — which Mr. Ewert disputes — "they're immune from (a defamation lawsuit) because these are privileged publications in the scope and course of a public hearing, if you will."

— Sandy Brundage

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