Thursday, June 29, 2006

Policy Shmolicy

I’m a volunteer for a public radio station. I’m not much of a volunteer, but a volunteer none the less.

Like all volunteers, I have the option of signing up for the organization’s listserv – which is basically an e-mail list. The listserv is a tool the station’s management uses to send out messages to the volunteers and the volunteers use to communicate with each other.

The content of the listserv is pretty mundane. There’s nothing earth shattering.

So earlier this year I was surprised to receive a form in the mail that I was required to sign if I wanted to stay on the listserv. It stated that I had to agree to keep the listserv content confidential.

It was a secrecy agreement which isn’t something I’m fond of, especially when it comes to public agencies.

So I complained and so did several other folks. The station did the right thing by forming a committee to actually develop a written policy on this issue. That was a reasonable move.

Today the new policy showed up in an email and included language that would require a participant to obtain written consent before making any listserv comments public.

It was just another secrecy agreement,

As I stated before on this blog, I have problems with this. What if listserv comments reveal financial irregularities at the station? What if there’s an abuse of power? Or what if one of the volunteers discloses the secret location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body?

All of this is highly unlikely. But anything is possible in Humboldt County. Weirder things have happened and the station is not without its past scandals.

Under the policy, I would have to obtain permission before revealing the listserv contents. If I didn’t get permission, I would have to either keep the information secret, or violate my volunteer contract.

Neither is a reasonable option.

I had heard that a public agency’s listserv is public record and decided to do some research on the internet.

It turns out that this is correct. The listserv is public record under Government Code 6250. The law is clear.

Can a station require a volunteer to keep a public record confidential? Of course not.

I suppose the station could ask, as a courtesy, that I obtain consent before publishing listserv comments. But they can’t require it.

So I submitted some revised policy language.

The station can come up with just about any kind of policy it likes whether I agree with it or not. But I don't see how the current policy is even legal.

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