Several St. Charles Parish Council members discussed the need for their own computer server after discovering that their emails were disseminated without a public records request.
Councilwoman Carolyn Schexnaydre admitted that she asked Parish President V.J. St. Pierre to give her copies of emails between other council members. She received the emails, which were located on a server the council shares with the administration, without filing a public records request.
“I asked the administration and thought (St. Pierre) had the authority to do it,” Schexnaydre said. “All he had to say was no and I would have done a public records request.”
All emails sent by council members are public record, but guidelines must be followed to attain them. Those guidelines include filing a written notice. Five years ago, the Parish Council had their own email server, but merged with the administration’s server despite privacy concerns by council members at the time. Councilman Paul Hogan said he was always worried that the administration would read his emails.
“I have it in my mind that they have intercepted our emails and looked at them without our knowledge,” Hogan said. “If they want to get our emails through a public information request, that’s fine. But I guarantee you they have been reading our emails without doing a public information request.”
Eric Matherne, of the parish’s Information Technology Department, said the servers were merged in order to avoid costly fees associated with consultants. Separating the servers again would mean that the Parish Council would have to hire an outside vendor to host the new server.
Councilman Clayton “Snookie” Faucheux said a separate server would help preserve the separation between the legislative and executive branches of government.
“Some unethical things happened recently and because of that there is a need for a definite separation between the two branches,” he said. “To have someone just say I want these emails and go to you to have them all printed and distributed...there should at least be a process.
“The issue exist that no one person should be able to do that without following a process – not even Mr. St. Pierre. There was always a secure network for the council (in the past) so that no one from the administration could just do something like that.”
Councilman Larry Cochran said that Council Secretary Tiffany Clark should have been involved in any request for council members’ emails. Clark said that it is important that she is informed of all public records request because she has a system that tracks them.
“Tiffany should have been involved because someone said give me all emails between this councilman, this councilman, this councilman and the parish secretary and – boom – it happened. We have some serious, serious issues with this. My only concern is this breach of security with the council’s email.”
Councilwoman Julia Fisher-Perrier said that improvements in technology mean council members now have discussions through email that they would have had on the sidewalk or at lunch.
“Discussion should be somewhat protected. It is public record and it should be public record, but it should also be public knowledge that you looked at my conversation,” she said.
Cochran added that council members are not above the law and should have to follow all rules that their constituents do.
“Mrs. Schexnaydre, there is a process is place and we need to follow the process,” he said. “Why do we make constituents go through the process if we don’t have to? I want to make sure the process if followed to the letter. This is a breach of ethics in my eyes.”
St. Charles Parish Chief Administrative Officer Buddy Boe said that if the council moves to a separate server, there may be issues.
“Our staff would be servicing equipment on a server of another vendor. So that vendor, whoever you choose, might have an issue with parish staff,” he said. “If you are going to have confidence in that vendor, they are going to want to be the only ones working on that equipment.”
The council will discuss the issue in further meetings. St. Pierre declined to comment for this story.