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Richardson's emailings draw complaints

SALEM — A state legislator from Central Point used public records requests to obtain hundreds of thousands of home email addresses of state workers and teachers, using them to ask for ideas about saving taxpayer money and catching some heat from employees who objected to him having the information.

The mass mailing came from Republican Rep. Dennis Richardson of Central Point, co-chairman of the legislative budget committee. Richardson said he was trying to reach out to people who are involved in the daily workings of state government but who normally would not have much input into the budget process.

Some state employees, however, didn't view it as a plus.

"It concerned me when I got a personal email from an elected official," said Barbara Neliton, an employee at Oregon Private Health Partnerships. "My first reaction was, 'How did they get my address?' "

Richardson said he's gotten 5,800 responses, and about 75 employees objected.

"I immediately wrote them back and apologized, telling them I didn't intend to invade their privacy," Richardson told the (Salem) Statesman Journal. "They'll never hear from us again."

Email addresses are not protected from disclosure by public records law, and the attorney general's office doesn't consider their release an unreasonable invasion of privacy, said spokesman Tony Green said.

"Frankly, email addresses are widely disseminated by people. It's not something we generally feel meets that test," Green said. "You can just delete an unwanted email. We all get a significant number of unwanted emails, and you can either delete them or block them."

The survey contains one question: "To help Oregon State Government save money, run more efficiently and be more effective, I suggest the following:"

"The idea was to get information from people who don't normally do it because they are concerned about retaliation," Richardson said. "This was something that we did to try and generate citizen involvement from those citizens who have insight into the functioning of government."

He said he won't share his email list and would delete names when he gets objections.

The Department of Human Services and Oregon Health Authority provided Richardson with more than 340,000 email addresses from various subscription lists. Richardson also received 54,524 email addresses from the Oregon Educators Benefit Board.

Employees were particularly unhappy that the Public Employees' Benefit Board provided more than 85,000 addresses.

The board administers health benefits and has been under fire from state workers about a new wellness program that requires employees to fill out a detailed health questionnaire. Some said the release violates a promise to protect the information.

"I had no problem getting the literature, but I became shocked when I started thinking about how he got our information," said Albany resident Jeffrey Barros, who works with the Department of Human Services. "The trust issue is just out the window, now."

Spokeswoman Patty Wentz said the board doesn't have access to medical records, whose information is protected under federal law. "All of the health information is kept with the health plans," she said.