Destruction of public records should be an impeachable offense
by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s deja vu all over again.” Only four months after we learned Bush administration officials deleted thousands of e-mails from their servers between 2003 and 2005 in direct violation of the Presidential Records Act, we learn that a similar practice of destroying e-mails is occurring in Gov. Matt Blunt’s office in violation of Missouri’s Open Meetings and Records Law.
This destruction of public records by the governor’s staff is disturbing and wrong for several reasons.
First, it destroys the ability of the public to understand how decisions are made in the governor’s office. The Sunshine Law is Missouri’s equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act, and it allows regular citizens reasonable access to government records so that they can investigate and learn about the inner workings of their government. Not all e-mail correspondence would necessarily be available to the public under the Sunshine Law, but now there is no possibility for e-mail communications to be made available.
Second, this practice might be destroying evidence that could be used in civil or criminal court cases. If someone in the governor’s office misused his or her position in government to benefit or injure a fellow Missourian, e-mail correspondence might be critical in prosecuting a case or proving innocence.
Third, because the governor’s staff knows e-mail records will not be maintained, some might be tempted to use e-mail and state resources for activities they shouldn’t be doing while on the public payroll, such as political campaign work.
Fourth, by breaking the public trust, this practice further erodes the public’s confidence in state government and reduces people’s willingness to participate in government or even vote.
And, finally, it’s illegal.
As the state’s chief executive, you would think Blunt wouldn’t be quite so cavalier about breaking the law. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that, “in explaining his staff’s intentions,” Blunt “said with a chuckle, ‘I think people are trying to have a clear and manageable in-box. That’s what they’re trying to do.’ “
This from a governor who loves to tout his leadership in e-government and spent $58,354 on new computers when he moved into the governor’s office in 2005.