by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
I have to admire Gov. Matt Blunt’s courage in bucking conventional wisdom. Most people who find themselves stuck in a deep hole decide to stop digging. Instead, our governor says, “Hand me a bigger shovel.”
Blunt’s excavation project started when Tony Messenger, a former Tribune columnist, now an editor at the Springfield News-Leader, made a request for copies of e-mail correspondence between Blunt Chief of Staff Ed Martin and anti-abortion activists Martin enlisted in a campaign to prevent Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon from representing the state in a case regarding a new anti-abortion law. Although Messenger had a copy of one such e-mail, he was told related e-mails could not be provided because the governor’s staff does not save e-mails.
That’s already a pretty good size hole right there because the 2004 amendments to Missouri’s Sunshine Law specifically say that electronic records and correspondence are public records. Blunt spokesman Rich Chrismer took a turn at digging when he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “there is no statute or case that requires the state to retain individuals’ e-mails as a public record.”
The governor took the shovel back and dug down a couple more feet by adding, “I think people are trying to have a clear and manageable inbox. That’s what they’re trying to do.”
Meanwhile, inside the hole — er, I mean the governor’s office — attorney Scott Eckersley reminded the governor and his chief of staff that the governor’s own e-mail retention policy and the Sunshine Law clearly said that e-mails are public records and should have been retained. Eckersley was suggesting that the governor stop digging, get out of the hole, admit mistakes were made and make the appropriate corrections to ensure that all public records in the governor’s office are retained as required by law.
But when you are making such great progress, why stop? And you definitely don’t want to have digging companions like Eckersley, who are not fully committed to digging all the way to China. So Chief of Staff Martin searched through Eckersley’s e-mail inbox for any justification that could be used to jettison the troublesome lawyer. He was pleased to find some e-mails from “group sex sites” that had been sent to Eckersley’s e-mail address. Never mind the fact that anyone with an e-mail account probably receives several such unsolicited spam e-mails…