Thursday, March 30, 2023

Trustees approve privacy protection policy

Members of the Sumpter Township Board of Trustees have approved a new policy designed to protect the privacy of residents and employees.

Township attorney Rob Young explained the new non-disclosure agreement to board members during the March 14 workshop meeting. Young said the township has not previously had a confidentiality agreement as part of employment with the township but “we live in a different world today than we did 10 years ago. There is a lot of harm that can come to an individual if confidential information is disclosed to the public or just to people around township hall,” Young said.

Young explained that this was a step taken to protect and recognize that anyone employed with the township must be respectful of the private information they might become a party to during their employment.

“The condition is you keep information confidential and you don't disclose other people's personal matters with anybody,” he said. Young added that this was a first step in the protection of privacy and that enforcement of the new policy remained unclear.

Trustee Matt Oddy, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Supervisor Tim Bowman, explained that he felt this would be protection for people visiting township hall. People preparing applications which might contain confidential or personal information could be confident that the data would remain confidential, he said.

“I think this helps to remind employees that they have confidential information,” he said.

Trustee Tim Rush agreed noting that a confidentiality agreement in many businesses was standard operating procedure. “I have signed one every year for my day job,” he said. “This is just a tool to help protect our township. There's nothing wrong with it. If you're not doing anything wrong, it's not a concern.”

Trustee Don LaPorte was also in favor of the new policy noting that the need for privacy “goes beyond the four walls of the township buildings.

“This also pertains to our police officers and firefighters,” LaPorte said. He explained that the public emergency employees witness personal situations in the course of their daily work. LaPorte added that discussing what first responders might see in a home or on a call violates the oath the employees have taken, “but accidents happen. This helps people stay on point,” he said. LaPorte added he felt this would offer protection for both employees and the public.

The trustees' comments came in response to protests from Trustee Peggy Morgan who insisted the new policy was unnecessary. “Nobody's been doing that. It's not been an issue. I just don't understand why we're putting this policy in place and what if an employee doesn't want to sign it,” she said. Morgan also insisted that the confidentiality provisions were covered by state law. Morgan also said the average employee does not have confidential information.

Young responded that if that were the case, signing the agreement should not be a problem.

“We're trying to prevent problems,” he explained. If we find this is burdensome, or unfair, we'll look at it,” he said.  

Morgan cast the lone no vote on the implementation of the new policy.