Staff recommends fixing “fully functional” e-mail system


By Geoff Davidian

SHOREWOOD, WI. (July 31, 2004) – In settling a public records lawsuit last spring, the village agreed to establish by June 1, 2004 an e-mail server so that official correspondence could be archived for public access under the Wisconsin public records act.


On Monday night, trustees will revisit the e-mail issue because although the government has provided “” e-mail addresses to elected officials, trustees frequently have been unable to access correspondence or attachments through the official system.


In addition, only Trustee Michael Phinney has responded to e-mail sent to him at his official e-mail address, suggesting that trustees are either not receiving correspondence or are not accessing it.


In a July 29, 2004 memorandum to the Village Board, Leeann Butschlick, assistant to the village manager, writes that “Staff believes that the Village is in full compliance with this agreement,” but acknowledges that there are “issues” related to “remote access to the system, not the integrity of the system itself.”

“The system has been fully functional since June 1, 2004 as required in the agreement.”


How a system can be fully functional while not allowing trustees to access their correspondence may be explained Monday.


Although the system has been “fully functional since June 1,” Butschlick writes, “staff has made numerous attempts to address the difficulties some Trustees experience when attempting to access the Village email system; however it seems apparent at this point that staff does not have the technical expertise to accurately identify nor correct the access problems experienced by some users.”

“Staff requests that it be authorized to negotiate a time and materials contract with Mike Armstrong, the Village's IT consultant, to identify the problems at each remote access location.”


Village staff apparently considers the existence of the equipment itself, plugged in and working, as complying with the settlement agreement, which meant to ensure that trustees communicate openly and retain public records at a central location.


If staff considers the existence of the e-mail server as “fully functional” in the spirit of the settlement, then the Village Board should reject the proposal to contract with an IT consultant to identify problems, since a “fully functional” system would already be “fully functional.”


But if it is necessary to contract with an IT specialist because trustees are not able to use the system, staff should not report to the governing body that the system is “fully functional,” because a “fully functional” system would require no one “to identify the problems at each remote access location.”


The suit was brought at a time when former Village President Rodney Dow was using e-mail to communicate with a majority of trustees regarding issues that were to be discussed in public sessions.


E-mail correspondence among a group of public officials involving an issue that will be voted on raises questions of legality under the state public meetings law.


Despite the requirement that public officials retain documents regarding their official duties, Trustee Ellen Eckman and former Trustee Vida Langenkamp did not retain all their correspondence.


In settling the lawsuit, the village agreed to create an official system so that officials would communicate on public matters in a way that could be monitored, and in a way that would reassure the public that village business was not being subverted by any former officials or lobbyists.