Distributing Public Information, Privately
Can District 65 hide records and controversial topics by posting to privately-owned YouTube channels?
Yesterday, I received an email from my son’s principal about upcoming sex education. There was a link to a YouTube video describing the program. Instead of hosting the video on the Districts 854+ follower channel, it was (yet again) posted to the private channel of a individual, who is a district administrative employee.
This employee has distributed other official government documents through his channel.1
This has been a subject of prior posts but is something that I find particularly worrying, from a messaging, communications, and oversight perspective: Official government content distributed through unofficial private channels. This creates records that are public but owned privately and outside the scope of transparency law.
I find this troublesome for several reasons.
Should the employee delete their YouTube channel, the content is no longer accessible even by FOIA. If the District wanted to remove something controversial, the records could easily be deleted.
Should the employee leave the District, this content will no longer be accessible via traditional means or FOIA. Records such as video analytics are subject to FOIA.
Posting to the official district channel sends out notifications to people who are following the channel. This is an important way to get information out, especially for Sex Education content!
The district spends significant funds on Communications and IT - a little over $300,000 per year goes to the District Communications program. In fact, they’ve won awards for being a great communications program.
If the District doesn’t want to post to their main YouTube channel, that is fine; they should create a separate (official) one for videos of this type.
The Federal Government does not post information to YouTube channels privately owned by random employees of the government. Neither does the State or even our local government. Not even Mayor Biss conducts public business on his private online accounts! Posting content in a privately-owned channel where records will exist outside the scope of public transparency is a violation of 5 ILCS 140. I believe the District should remedy this immediately.
I do not mean to blame this specific employee; surely he was just following instructions from his manager. I apologize for having to post his information publicly, but it is impossible to redact his information in this case.