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Ashfield resident: Town website violates privacy rights

ASHFIELD — A resident whose Public Records requests and Open Meeting Law complaints have been posted on the town website has accused town officials of violating her privacy rights by displaying the documents with her mail and email addresses intact.

Suzanne Corbett is among a few residents whose requests for public records in recent years has prompted Selectboard members to consider setting limits on multiple record requests from the same person. Corbett, the former owner of the Ashfield House apartment complex, has been outspoken about how that complex is managed.

In a Nov. 6 letter to both the Selectboard and Board of Health, Corbett said she was not given any notice that her correspondence would be posted online. “Additionally, I did not waive my privacy rights of personal information, nor did I authorize any collection of personal data by any person with access to my email address/ISP (Internet Service Provider) via board member or staff correspondence, or the town Website, nor did I authorize third-party access.”

The Selectboard has submitted Corbett’s letter to Town Council Donna MacNicol for a legal opinion.

Corbett also accused town officials of essentially “tracking” her correspondence, to support a claim made last summer that the multiple requests are unreasonable.

“There was trust established by the Town of Ashfield and by ashfield.org,” Corbett wrote. “There was no notification to users prior to submitting information or documents to the town ... that data collected would be used against the person. There was no direction or policy about ... privacy practices to use my personal information in unfavorable actions against me, nor was there a warning town hall staff or ashfield.org would violate my privacy to use collected information against me or for any legal proceedings.”

“This unauthorized action, to (gather) information to support an unjustified conclusion there is a pattern of abuse caused by me, is abuse of power, a violation of authority and an invasion of privacy,” Corbett wrote.

The 52 posted Board of Health documents include public record requests and initial responses made from town employees from February 2012 to March 2013. About 10 documents are either Open Meeting Law complaints or the town’s responses to complaints. Not all the public records requests were from Corbett.

In July, Selectboard Chairman Thomas Carter said the increasing public record requests and meeting complaints by Corbett and a few others was a form of “constant harassment.” Town Hall staffing hours had been increased to respond to the increased workload; also, an additional $12,000 was added for legal counsel, to address complaints that were filed with the Attorney General’s Office. Two Selectboard members, Carter and Ron Coler, supported developing a form letter to decline public records requests that basically duplicated previous materials given to the same person.

In August, the board sent the state Attorney General’s Office and Public Records Division a letter that included their proposed “denial” form letter.

“For over two years, the town has struggled to meet an onslaught of Open Meeting Law violation complaint filings coupled with unrelenting Public Records requests generated by a very few individuals working in concert,” their letter reads. “The board has determined that the burden these demands have created have impeded the town’s ability to meet its many other legal responsibilities. By approving this motion, the board hopes to provide relief from what we believe can be clearly established to be a coordinated assault on the town’s ability to function.”

On the town Website, links to the correspondence are given under the heading “Public Record Requests.”

“In the interests of improved transparency, the Ashfield Board of Health is making the following documents from Feb. 2012 to March 2013 available,” the Website states. Also given are the links to the state Attorney General’s Website for Open Meeting Law complaint resolutions.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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