Greenport trustee’s policy would force employees to answer emails

04/17/2015 3:56 PM |
Greenport Village Trustee Doug Roberts — seen here being sworn into office earlier this month — has proposed a rule to force Village Hall to respond to emails. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Greenport Village Trustee Doug Roberts — seen here being sworn into office earlier this month — has proposed a rule to force Village Hall to respond to emails. (Credit: Paul Squire)

It’s already Greenport Village Hall’s policy to respond to emails as promptly as possible.

That’s not good enough for new Village Trustee Doug Roberts, who announced Thursday his intent to propose a new policy that would force employees to reply to all emails within a few days.

At the Village Board meeting Thursday night, Mr. Roberts said the new rule would show the board’s commitment to “transparency and communication” with the public, a campaign issue he focused on before last month’s election.

But other board members said the proposal was not only unnecessary, but likely illegal.

Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said she floated Mr. Roberts’ resolution to the New York State Committee on Open Government Thursday, but was advised that the policy could force the village to violate state open meetings rules.

Ms. Phillips said that if at least three board members discussed something related to a village policy decision, it would technically be a quorum, meaning state law would require a public notice and a public meeting.

That rule would also apply in email conversations,  she said.

Forcing Village Trustees to reply to a request for a decision might not only break state law but open the village up to lawsuits, she said.

“I understand where you’re coming, from but I think we really need to take a look at this from a legal aspect,” Ms. Phillips said.

Robert Freeman, the state’s authority on open government laws, was unavailable to comment on the legality of the proposal Friday.

Mayor George Hubbard said village employees already respond to emails quickly.

“As a guideline, as a suggestion, it’s something doable,” he said. “But as a resolution voted [on] saying we have to do that could be troublesome.”

Mr. Roberts acknowledged the policy would need to be researched, but didn’t rule out bringing it up again at the Board’s meeting next Thursday.

“We’ll put it up for a vote and if it doesn’t pass, it doesn’t pass,” he said.

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Correction: Mr. Roberts has proposed a policy to require employees to respond to emails, not a local law, as originally reported.

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