If you provided your email address to any of the city- or county-owned golf courses in Northeast Ohio and you thought your contact information would be kept private — you thought wrong.
In fact, even if the golf course specifically stated that your email address “would never be shared, rented or sold” and you believed those facilities would abide by their clearly stated privacy policies– again, you thought wrong.
And it’s a truly convoluted reason as to why your private email address has been given away by these city- and county- owned golf courses.
Salemi is citing a 2008 Ohio Supreme Court ruling GLASGOW v. JONES in his request for those email newsletter lists. Typically, sunshine laws exist so that government will not do business behind closed doors and so that those agencies will make available the public records created in the course of their business.
The format of the records request was nothing more than a one-sentence email asking for the list, followed up by a phone call. A “sunshine law” request need not state a reason for the request, nor must the person making the request give any indication for the intended use of the information.
Regardless, nearly every golf course has complied with Salemi’s request, choosing not to fight the request on merit because of the legal costs.
Salemi said in a phone conversation that he planned on using the collected email lists to send email marketing messages and discount offers for his Boulder Creek Golf Club. Typically, the use of such email lists from persons who have not “opted-in” to receive those messages are considered spam by nearly every commercial mail server company (Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, etc.) and internet service provider (ISP).
Salemi also said that he felt entitled to use the golfer email address information because none of the government agencies involved have turned him down under the open records request. Salemi stated that because of all the advantages that government-owned golf courses have over privately-owned facilities (i.e. no property taxes, no need to turn a profit, easier access to capital), that his use of this law to his benefit his business was an acceptable balance.
“I wish you would focus your efforts on exposing to our area, how every city and government operated golf course is losing tax payer money and are being financed with money from the general funds,” said Salemi by email. “It is stupid for government to compete against private business, especially in these economic times. If more taxpayers knew the truth, many would have debates in their communities about the need for golf courses that lose money.”
Jane Christyson, the Director of Marketing and Clubhouse Services for the Cleveland Metroparks Golf Division, was one of the last holdouts in turning over their email lists to Salemi. The Metroparks spent several days discussing the matter internally and with their attorney, but in the end decided to give up their list to Salemi. Christyson said that they weren’t fully confident that a legal challenge would work, and so they didn’t want to take it on. “We weighed the options and felt the odds in our favor weren’t quite good enough,” said Christyson.
Other known golf courses that have been asked to comply include Grantwood in Solon, GlenEagles in Twinsburg, and Ellsworth Meadows in Hudson.
So every golfer might want to think twice about providing his or her email address (or any contact information, actually!) to any publicly-owned recreational facility, as a flood of spam could be coming from Salemi and anyone else who asks. As of right now, it appears these types of “electronic records” are simply available for the asking — regardless of the match of the case law cited or the promises made when those records were collected — as currently no agency in local government wants to stand up to say “no” or to fight for their customer’s privacy.