Carroll commissioners remain divided over releasing email lists

More than a month after a judge ordered Carroll County commissioners to release their email distribution lists to several media outlets in accordance with the state's Public Information Act laws, some commissioners continue to argue the county should have appealed the decision, while others are ready to move on.

"I think we've exhausted the discussion," Commissioner Doug Howard said Monday.

During a commissioners' meeting Feb. 20, the Board of Carroll County Commissioners voted 3-2 to release the email distribution lists of Howard and Commissioner Haven Shoemaker following a Jan. 25 Public Information Act request from a county citizen.

The request came from Lyn Mallick, a former staff member in the county commissioners office.

Amid controversy, Mallick was released from her position in July. Commissioner Robin Frazier has said commissioners Howard, Shoemaker, and Dave Roush voted to fire Mallick without her knowledge.

Mallick said Monday that she has yet to receive the email distribution lists and isn't sure what she will find when she does receive them.

Her request follows a Jan. 16 opinion from retired Howard County Circuit Court Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, which required commissioners to release their email distribution list in accordance with a March 2013 PIA request from a reporter with the Carroll County Times.

County commissioners had argued that releasing the email lists would compromise the privacy of citizens who had communicated with the commissioners' office via email.

The Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post and WMAR-TV later joined the Carroll County Times in the case.

"When you see four media organizations requesting that information, you want to see it as well," Mallick said.

She said that she only requested Howard and Shoemaker's lists because she was familiar with Frazier and Rothschild's communications as a staffer in the commissioners' office.

She added that it was "widely known" that Roush did not use email frequently, which was why she did not request his information.

Mallick denied that her request was in retaliation for her controversial release.

Although county commissioners have voted 3-2 not to appeal Sweeney's decision, Commissioner Richard Rothschild said he continues to be worried about the effect the decision will have on communication with county citizens.

"When people start worrying about their privacy, they stop communicating with government," he said.

Frazier and Rothschild voted in favor of appealing the judge's decision.

While commissioners voted on Mallick's request during an open session, the county is expected to handle future citizen PIA requests for email distribution lists internally.

"The Chief of Staff, as custodian of the records, will confer with whichever commissioner is being PIA'd in order to see if there is any additional information available. He will then release the requested documents for inspection through the county attorney's office," county spokeswoman Roberta Windham said in an email.

Windham said the county commissioners have spent approximately $15,000 in legal costs during this case.

Shoemaker said he hopes Feb. 20 will be the last time commissioners discuss the case in open session.

"I hope we have more important things to do," he said.

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