Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

Ethical Emails

Posted by auroracitizen on May 9, 2009

Adam Giambrone recently found himself in hot water for an inappropriate email he set to Councillor Cesar Palacio. Giambrone has subsequently apologized to that Councillor, Council and his community.

Of note, this infraction has come to the attention of the City’s Integrity Commissioner when the offended Councillor asked for a ruling on whether the email had crossed the line and qualified as inappropriate conduct according to the Council’s Code of Conduct.

We have heard a lot about Council’s conduct here in Aurora. As well we have heard about inappropriate emails sent from Council members to other Council members. However, these accusations have not been supported by much factual evidence. Are not emails supposed to be part of public record?

It will be interesting to see how the City of Toronto handles this situation. It will be equally interesting to see how our own Council handles a similar matter. The comparison should be enlightening.

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14 Responses to “Ethical Emails”

  1. Grace Marsh said

    Heather and Robert the Bruce: I can tell you how email was handled when I was a Councillor. We were all issued an “e-aurora” email address just following the election. However, because most of us either had full-time employment elsewhere, or worked from our homes we already had at least one or two other email addresses that we regularly used, so we were provided with options: We could access the e-aurora email from the Town offices by logging in on the system or we could access the e-aurora address by logging into a web based Town access or we could simply ask the IT department to “forward” all email addressed to “e-aurora” to another location. In my case I chose my sympatico home account as I did most Council work from home.

    My e-mails were not forwarded to anyone other than who they were addressed to directly. When I responded to any of those emails the response would show to the receiver as coming from my sympatico account.

    However, there was also a general address however that does go to all Councillors, something like “allcouncillors@e-aurora.ca” If anyone used that address all Councillors would receive the email. There was also a “management” address that went to all the staff senior management team and an “all staff” one that went to everybody with an e aurora address.

    What I discovered very quickly is that many Councillors and residents who knew about the global addresses would occasionally place one or all of them in the BCC section so that it may appear I was receiving an email directly but in fact many others were copied on it.

    Bill Hogg’s advice is sound, don’t write it down unless you are preapred to have it published. The BCC secion of the email system means there should be no expectation of privacy or confidentiality regardless of what statements are printed at the bottom.

  2. Elizabeth Bishenden said

    Actually, Bill, ethical behaviour just depends on each of us being willing to deal with the kittens. We don’t have to like them or be comfortable with them, but we do have to figure out what to do with them.

    Of course, stuffing them in a bag and trying to drown them isn’t really the right thing to do.

  3. Bill Hogg said

    Elizabeth, Brilliant!

    I have long taught my children they should never write anything they would be uncomfortable appearing on the front page of the newspaper. This standard equally applies to business and politics.

    I saw no reason why emails about Town business shouldn’t be public when I served. My opinion hasn’t changed.

    Doesn’t ethical behaviour suggest the same? Don’t say it if you are uncomfortable having it repeated.

    Confidential information should still be protected — personal statements and opinions have nothing to do with confidential information.

  4. Elizabeth Bishenden said

    Let’s say you own an unspayed female cat and you put it out every night. You could tie a note to its tail saying “This is my cat. Don’t mess with it.”

    It might work. All the toms your cat encounters might be neutered. More likely, though, you’ll get kittens.

    If you send out an email, attaching a note to the end isn’t going to keep it confidential.

    Either keep your comments so neutral they offend no one or be prepared for kittens.

  5. Robert the Bruce said

    Heather (and anyone else interested). I am not familiar with the Town’s IT setup but this is what I have found so far.

    The Town of Aurora has at least 2 domains registered to them.

    The first is e-Aurora.ca.
    According to the WHOIS record, the domain was registered in 2005. The ADMINISTRATIVE contact is Karen Bates-Denney at the town (her numbers are listed – I won’t bother here). The TECHNICAL contact is Mr Eugene Han of Fusepoint Managed Services in Mississauga. This is clearly the company that they have farmed out the web site to and have linked the e-Aurora email addresses.

    The second domain is town.aurora.on.ca and has been there since 2000. Karen Bates-Denney is listed as both the ADMINISTRATIVE and TECHNICAL contact for this domain.

    The town’s web site can be seen at http://www.town.aurora.on.ca or http://www.e-aurora.ca.

    I have reviewed emails that I have received from councillors over time, and I cannot find one with either of these domains, they are all private email accounts (sympatico, aci, etc.).

    Heather, I think that you are quite right in the emails to e-aurora addresses are auto-forwarded to another address. I certainly hope that it is not a broadcast to all councillors.

    So……. how can the corporation manage the inbound and outbound email traffic when they do not own any of the services that it originates or terminates on? Having a disclaimer that the email is meant only for the recipient is moot when the email account is managed by the councillor on their own equipment.

    From what I see here on the surface, the IT infrastructure at the Town is as messed up as alot of their other administrative departments. If nothing else, they should have the email infrastructure in house under control of town staff.

    Do I see a career opportunity here????

    Fuimus

  6. Heather said

    Robert – my understanding of the whole e-aurora vs. councillors personal email addresses – I remember sending an email to Evelyn by clicking on her e-aurora address on the Town’s website, only to discover that address routed to all councillors. When I got a reply back, it came from her ACI address though. I don’t think that there’s outbound mail ending in e-aurora.ca – I don’t know this for sure though…you’re the IT guy – maybe you’d like to do some G2?

    🙂

  7. Robert the Bruce said

    I would be interested in seeing if Ms. Buck’s email was from her “official” Town of Aurora email address or her own @aci email address.

    From the town’s web site, every councillor has an email address with the @e-aurora.ca domain (why they do not use @town.aurora.on.ca like the website is another question). If e-aurora.ca is the official town’s email domain, only emails from that domain can be construed as official town communication. If Ms Buck has copied and pasted this email into her own personal account, she has violated the confidentiality clause that is clearly appended to email that she sent. If she sent the email from her town account, she may be okay as she intended to send it to these people. However, if she sent this from her town account, why is she using town resources to promote her web site and blog site? Someone could think that her websites exist with the blessing of the town and the town endorses them.

    The origin of the email also determines how much authority an Integrigty Commissioner would have in this case. Again, if the email was internal in origin, there are policies in place to govern content (or should be). If external, there is no authority.

    Fuimus

  8. Anonymous said

    Anonymous 12:12 – I think the disclaimer on the bottom of Evelyn’s email means that if she sent it to YOU – that’s okay. If you got it from someone else… that’s not okay.

    Would it hold up in court? Not likely. I suppose it’s just built into Evelyn’s signature. Did the email she forwarded from Phyllis state the same? If not then I’m sure you’re safe.

  9. Walt said

    Has no one ever heard of the legal boiler-plate that gets auto-appended when anyone from a corporation/entity emails something?

    Yahwn.

  10. Evelyn Buck said

    As soon as I discover how, I will forward the Mayor’s invitation to a “Mayor’s Town Hall Meeting” extended by r-mail with less than twenty four hours notice to which I was responding.

    The Mayor has responded at length again by e-mail.I am prepared to share that as well.

    Councillor MacEachern has previously received succinct advice from a town solicitor on forwarding copies of e-mails after she sent a copy of mine sent to a town director, to a litigant against the town.

    Furthermore, far from keeping my position on the baseball diamond a secret, I have already sent a copy to The Auroran so that all may be apprised of my position on the various representations on the baseball diamond issue. I’ve made no secret of my disagreement with council’s position which I regard as misleading and detrimental to public trust.

  11. Anonymous said

    I received an email from Evelyn Buck today. In her email she cc’s approximately 15 people. Her email outlines her views on a public matter. She expresses her views on why a Ball Diamond should be constructed immediately. At the bottom of her email she includes the following.

    Evelyn Buck
    Councillor
    http://www.evelynbuck.com
    http://evelynmbuck.blogspot.com

    The information contained in this message is directed in confidence solely to the person{s) named above and may not be otherwise distributed, copied or disclosed. The message may contain information that is privileged, confidential and exempt from disclosure under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection and Privacy Act. If you have received this message in error, please notify the sender immediately advising of the error and delete the message without making a copy. Thank you.

    How can this be “confidential”?

  12. Bill Hogg said

    When I sat on Council we were given direction that emails were public. I understand that this term a legal opinion was sought and it was determined they are private.

    My concern is that email communication, copied to 5 members of Council could technically be construed as quorum and therefore should be deemed a public discussion (unless it is covered by in-camera guidelines). If email is not subject to the same scrutiny as a public discussion in Council chambers, them it effectively circumvents the process.

    When Councillors are engaged in discussion about Town business online should they not be subject to the same guidelines as a public meeting? Also in their role of public servants, should they also not be held accountable to their constituents.

    The introduction of new technology always adds new wrinkles. It will be interesting to see how this nets out.

  13. Robert the Bruce said

    Email’s are not and should not be considered private. Any place that I have worked or done work for has, for the most part, a “PC Policy Guide” that every employee and contractor is supposed to read and sign off on as read. In part, that guide spells out the fact that email is not private and the employer has the right to review any and all emails.

    Should email’s at a municipal government level be considered part of public record however, I am not 100% sure. Just like council goes into in camera sessions to discuss issues in private, there will be some emails that are at the same level of confidential nature.

    Normally, email security and content is managed by an IT manager/director. What is inappropriate? Someone needs to be the arbiter of that and in the City of Toronto, it looks like the Integrity Commissioner is the one. Who is the arbiter of inappropriate communication in Aurora? Hopefully it is someone that is arms-length from the mayor and councillors.

    Fuimus

  14. Evelyn Buck said

    I read the story about what bad boy Giambrione wrote to Cesar Palacio in an e-mail and how he was required by the City’s Integrity Commissioner to apologize and he did.

    I imagined what city taxpayers might have thought when they read it.

    “Bravo! Now I see how much benefit I’m getting from my taxes. I’ll bet Giambrone will behave better from now on. I am so glad the city is taking care of this problem for me.

    Every day young people are being shot and stabbed to death on our streets but at least we won’t have to worry about rambunctious councillors saying nasty things to each other with the Integrity Commissioner there to keep them in line.”

    To put things into perspective,
    I tried to find 2008 actual cost of the Integrity Commissioner’s Office. I’m just not computer savvy enough. Maybe to-morrow.

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