Updated 9:29 a.m.
The Charlotte Observer on Tuesday pledged not to send emails to citizens whose email addresses it obtains from local government lists. In a column on Page 2A of Tuesday’s paper, Editor Rick Thames apologized for the controversy.
Mr. Thames said the paper did not want to discourage citizens from using town email lists to get information from local governments. He wrote:
“We are shelving this idea after hearing concerns from some on the lists that the emails would not be welcome. Please reconsider, you said. … We apologize to all who were offended. While we did not view these invitations as a “commercial use” of the email lists, we respect the concerns of those who did.”
Read the full column: Jan. 25, 2011, Charlotte Observer, “We heard your concerns on email lists.”
WHAT WILL TOWNS DO?
The public records law, sometimes referred to as the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requires governments to comply with requests for public documents free or at minimal cost, in most cases.
While The Observer is pledging not to use the lists for email, it has not pulled back its requests to the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and area towns including Davidson and Cornelius.
Davidson officials have not yet complied with the request. On Friday, town spokeswoman Megan Pillow Davis said: “The more we discuss it, the more we realize how complex this situation is and how far-reaching its implications. We believe it’s very important to adhere to state law, but we also believe it’s important to protect the privacy of our citizens.”
In Cornelius, Town Commissioner Jim Bensman remained criticizal of the newspaper’s request on Tuesday. In his newsletter to constituents, he addressed the issue in an item headlined “The Observer Is Not Backing Down.” He told DavidsonNews.net in an email: “We are looking at legal options as well as legal action.”
The N.C. League of Municipalities has included the issue of citizen email lists one of its legislative priorities for this year. The group last week approved a 2011 lobbying agenda that includes ‘limiting public access to lists of email addresses submitted by citizens to municipalities.” The Observer’s Steve Harrison reported Jan. 3 that the City of Charlotte was joining an effort to make it harder for spammers to access public email lists using the open-records law.
Jan. 25, 2011, Charlotte Observer, Rick Thames column, “We heard your concerns on email lists.”
Jan. 24, 2011, DavidsonNews.net, “Update: Editor says Observer may decide not to send emails.”
Jan. 24, 2011, WFAE.org, “N.C. Cities Aim to Curb Public Access to Government Email Lists.”
Jan. 22, 2011, Charlotte Observer, Rick Thames “Inside Story” blog, “Email lists used only for journalism.”
Jan. 21, 2011, Media Emerging blog, “Why the Charlotte Observer Collecting Private Citizen E-mail Addresses Is Wrong.”
Jan. 21, 2011, WFAE-FM/WFAE.org, “Observer taps city, county email distribution lists.” – WFAE’s Julie Rose reports on the issue, including an interview with Observer editor Rick Thames.
Jan. 21, 2011, DavidsonNews.net, “Town puzzles over Observer request for citizen emails.”
Download a copy of the Observer’s request to Davidson (PDF), CLICK HERE>
North Carolina League of Municipalities, 2011 legislative agenda approved.
Jan. 3, 2011, Charlotte Observer (via NewsObserver.com),“City: Limit access to e-mail addresses.”