09
Jan

By: Jayme Fraser, Billings Gazette, January 8, 2017

HELENA — Dozens of Montana legislators, the governor and several top staff members often use personal email accounts to discuss government business, a practice criticized nationwide for circumventing public disclosure and threatening security.

The recent presidential election put unprecedented focus on the use of personal email by government officials. Less attention has been paid to the practice in Montana even though it is widespread.

 

Dozens of legislators do not have a government email account. Some that do say they still use their personal email for some public business.

There is limited guidance for legislators about how to handle emails and even less about other forms of electronic communications.

 “It doesn’t seem like the protocols and the laws are very clear on some of it,” Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, said. “I think something needs to be done to make sure the public records requests coming are legitimate…Some of the requests we’re seeing are coming from these politically motivated organizations out of Washington D.C. and they’re being used more as a tool of harassment.”

Last year, the Campaign for Accountability, a national watchdog and advocacy organization, requested emails sent by Fielder about public lands issues and the American Lands Council. She had become CEO of the council a few months earlier. The previous CEO, Utah legislator Ken Ivory, had left the post amid public scrutiny about how he used his state email account to lobby for council issues and to urge counties to buy memberships — issues exposed by a similar records request for emails made by the Campaign for Accountability.