Confidential emails keep county business out of the public eye

Published: Feb. 23, 2012 at 10:59 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 27, 2012 at 11:07 PM EST
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – While local government officials work for the public, holding public meetings and making decisions that impact our daily lives, residents don't see it all. There are plenty of issues that are privately discussed.

Like any business' employees, New Hanover County personnel send many emails – roughly 300,000 a month. Most of those emails are public record and the county logs them on a public server.

When an employee marks "confidential" in the subject line, however, a filter pulls the email from the public eye. A records request shows that county commissioners, managers and department heads sent more than 4,500 confidential emails in six months. The entire county staff sent approximately 1.8 million in that time.

The content of the emails remains undisclosed, but the subject lines show varied opinions of confidentiality. One reads "Inmate sent to hospital," while another says "Puppy for Adoption."

County business, like legal matters, personnel issues and economic developments. County spokesperson Charles Smith said projects that are in the works are kept confidential because they could change at any time.

"County management gets requests from the board to see if certain ideas will be possible financially and there's no reason to stir up something that may not be possible," explained Smith.

County policy allows employees to use their work account for personal items, as long as they don't take away from county business. Smith said there have been no problems with that policy.

Copyright 2012 WECT. All rights reserved.