Commentary: Ball is in Michael Mathews’ court to win public trust
First-term Cottonwood City Councilman Michael Mathews is finally seeing the light when it comes to his use of private email to conduct public business.
At the urging of Mayor Tim Elinski, Cottonwood City Attorney Steve Horton this week gave all members of the council a refresher course on the best practices of email use by elected officials.
“Consistent with the guidance we have long given to employees and council about how their private email accounts can in fact contain and generate public records -- we have urged council members to use or at least copy their assigned city email accounts whenever they’re communicating about a matter that could reasonably be characterized as city business,” the city attorney advised.
Last week, Mathews defended his practice of conducting the public’s business behind the public’s back first by claiming he had not violated Arizona’s Open Meeting Law. That was a classic rookie mistake as his use of private email to communicate city business had nothing to do with the Open Meeting Law.
He subsequently defended himself by citing a legal opinion from Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich that was rendered moot following a ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals.
At every turn, Mathews was his own worst enemy. He should not have used private email for constituent communication concerning complaints about Cottonwood Airport noise. He should not have gone behind his council colleagues’ backs to claim city staff and council were not “terribly concerned” about citizen complaints regarding the airport.
Monday, according to Horton, Mathews finally conceded the issue.
“He doesn’t intend to initiate correspondence concerning city-related matters on his personal account; and if he receives a constituent message on a personal account that he chooses to respond to, he’ll copy his city account on that response,” said Horton.
Obviously that is the right thing to do. Mathews should take it a step further now by turning over all previous private emails concerning city business to the city … and do it on his own volition vs. it being taken down the legal path through an Arizona Public Records Law request.
That would be a good-faith gesture on Mathews’ part to earn the trust of the community he was elected to serve. Again, that was emphasized by the city attorney this week when he said with all public records issues, “There’s an element of trust here, at every level of government. But I think that’s true of requests for information on public servers as well (or in boxes in storage, for that matter).”
When Mathews conducted the public’s business behind the public’s back he violated the public’s trust.
The ball is in his court to win it back.