Judge: Union e-mails are public record

HOWELL, Mich. - E-mails written by union leaders on Howell Public Schools computers are public record, a Livingston County judge has ruled, but the messages will not be released immediately, according to the Livingston Daily Press & Argus.

Chetly Zarko, of Zarko Research & Consulting, had requested about 5,500 e-mails under the Freedom of Information Act, the Press & Argus reported, but the Howell Education Association sued to block their release. Zarko told the Press & Argus he is investigating whether, during the most recent contract negotiations, some teachers would have been willing to accept a higher pay raise in exchange for moving away from union-affiliated health benefits, and also whether teachers were "lobbying" using school resources.

Circuit Court Judge Stanley J. Latreille ruled that the e-mails are part of the public record, but that actual release of the items is up to school administrators, the Press & Argus reported. Lynn Parrish, deputy superintendent of personnel and labor for the district, said that the items will not be released until the time for any legal appeal ends, the article said.

The Press & Argus could not reach the current HEA president for comment. The union had argued during the suit that the e-mails were not subject to FOIA because they are internal communications that deal with collective bargaining, contract rights and grievances.

The Livingston Daily Press & Argus, "Judge finds school union e-mails public record," Oct. 20, 2008

Michigan Education Report, "Michigan's Freedom of Information Act," Sept. 13, 2000