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Date of Issue: March 31, 2010

Deletion of e-mails could violate law

Any e-mails pertaining to public business deleted by Anna Maria City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus — even on his private computer — violate Florida statute and the appropriate law enforcement officials should be notified, Sarasota-based Sunshine Law expert Michael Barfield said last week.

Barfield, in a March 23 letter to city attorney Jim Dye, said he had several concerns with Stoltzfus’ e-mails regarding public business. The records were provided to Barfield as the result of a request two weeks ago. Barfield requested city-related e-mails from Stoltzfus’ city e-mail account and any e-mails relating to public business on Stoltzfus’ personal e-mail account.

Barfield wrote Dye that Anna Maria has an “official policy relating to the use of private e-mail accounts by elected and appointed officials,” and that any e-mail relating to public business should be retained, even on a private computer.

“It appears undisputed that Commissioner Stoltzfus failed to comply with that policy and has made himself the individual custodian of public records maintained on private computers,” wrote Barfield.

Aside from the city’s policy, Barfield pointed out that state law is “quite specific on the retention of e-mails as public records no matter their location.

“That Commissioner Stoltzfus acknowledged deleting e-mails that are public records is a serious violation of the law and requires immediate attention to determine if additional records have been deleted.”

Barfield also said that he was “troubled” by terms used in several e-mails produced by Stoltzfus that are marked confidential or “for your eyes only,” and other similar connotations.

Barfield asked Dye to determine if Stoltzfus deleted any e-mails relating to public records. If Stoltzfus has deleted such e-mails from his personal computer, but has “not been able to recover” them, Barfield asked Dye to “notify me, as well as the appropriate law enforcement officials on an immediate basis.”

Stoltzfus did not respond to an e-mail request for comment, but said in an e-mail exchange with city resident Ken Rickett that he’s been “wrongly accused,” and there is “nothing illegal or improper in the way I’ve conducted city business.” He said he is “simply fulfilling” his campaign promises.

Dye had no comment on the Barfield letter.