Commissioner Notes: Redactions, Spanish Signs, 911 Stations
Citizens questioned commissioner policies in Tuesday's open meeting and the commissioners approved the purchase of 911 workstations.
Highlights from Tuesday's open meeting of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners:
PIA Redaction Policy
Resident Judy Smith told commissioners she was concerned about their decision to redact certain information from Public Information Act (PIA) requests.
"I think the public is entitled to know what is happening between commissioners, staff and citizens," Smith said.
In the Dec. 13 commissioners meeting, the board unanimously voted to redact email addresses from PIA requests, citing security concerns.
During the Dec. 13 discussion by commissioners and County Attorney Tim Burke, Burke said that personal information such as phone numbers and addresses, and he expected email addresses, were protected under the PIA. However, Burke added that he currently redacts some information from PIA requests.
"I take out addresses and phone numbers. I haven't been challenged on that yet," Burke said in a video of the meeting.
In Tuesday's open session, Frazier told Smith that perhaps she misunderstood the extent of the new policy.
"The only thing we are redacting is the email address," Frazier said. "We think everybody should know the content and person of the conversations but the email address might be sensitive information."
Commissioner Richard Rothschild added that there are security issues involved with sharing citizen's personal email addresses. He likened an email address to a key to personal information.
"People's email addresses are the equivalent to keys to a safe deposit box," Rothschild said. "An email address is like one of the keys to electronic accounts like credit information, insurance information, health information. Giving out email addresses could potentially expose citizens to tampering with their identity."
He added that a citizen had tried to access email addresses from the state of Maryland under the PIA and was advised by deputy legal counsel for Gov. Martin O'Malley that the state did not belive that releasing email addresses was in the public interest because it would have "a chilling effect on communications."
"We agree with the decision of that deputy legal counsel so we mirrored the policy already being implemented by Gov. O'Malley by redacting these email addresses," Rothschild said.
Board of Commissioners President Doug Howard noted that the board also agreed to seek the opinion of the attorney general on its policy to redact email addresses from PIA requests. He said the board is in the process of seeking that opinion.
Spanish FEMA Signs Removed
During the public comment period, resident Bonnie Grady accused Rothschild of showing prejudice by working with his campaign manager in the spring to have two billboards removed because they were written in Spanish.
Rothschild said he believes it is inappropriate for the government to put up billboards written in Spanish when Spanish isn't the language spoken by many of the citizens.
"As an elected official representing my citizens in District 4, I thought that it was inappropriate for the government to be putting up billboards written entirely in Spanish," Rothschild said. "I asked Mr. Holstein to look into it to see what was behind that and get those billboards changed. And he did."
The signs were public service announcements posted by FEMA. Grady said that it was irresponsible to remove messages informing people how to prepare for emergency situations such as hurricanes.
"Acting on direct orders from you it was removed because you did not want it in Spanish," Grady said. "Everyone along the way knew it was because you resented it being in Spanish."
Commissioner Howard added that the decision was made due to demographics. According to the Census, 2.6 percent of Carroll County's population in 2010 was of Latin or Hispanic origin.
Rothschild reaffirmed his position.
"When we have something very important being published by FEMA, I maintain my position that it is totally inappropriate to have two billboards in our distrcit written 100 percent in Spanish," Rothschild said. "Had they been bilingual it wouldn't have been an issue but it is a grave injustice to our citizens to put these billboards up in a language which they don't understand and can't interpret."
Also of note in Tuesday's meeting:
The commissioners approved the purchase of 10 911 workstations for the new Carroll County Emergency Communications Center. The county received a total of 10 bids of which Eaton/Wright Line was the lowest in the amount of $105,778.10. The workstations will be paid for by a grant from the Maryland State Emergency Number Systems Board (ENSB), which will cover 100 percent of the purchase, delivery and installation of the furnishings. No county money is required.
Visit the Carroll County's video library to see watch videos of commissioner open meetings.