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WREG uncovers Germantown water customers’ information released by city to political candidates

GERMANTOWN, Tenn. -- City leaders have confirmed your name, address, and email are considered public information and can be released to anyone who asks.

Many residents started getting emails from candidates asking for their vote.

“I had been wondering how incumbents got my email,” said Sheila Hahn.

We wanted to know too.

Alderman Dave Klevan emailed WREG's Wayne Carter, revealing he got e-mail addresses legally, through a Freedom of Information request, from City Hall.

He said he asked City Hall for a copy of the city water customers.

“The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled, in fact, it is a public record, under the Tennessee Public Record Act,” said Patrick Lawton, Germantown’s city manager.

Lawton said not only is the city legally required to give out your name, address, phone number and email to candidates, businesses, or anyone who requests it, but the city will take money to do part of the work for the mailers.

“Folks can ask for it on a flash drive, a hard copy, or they can ask for labels. The hard copy or labels, of course, there's a charge for that,” said Lawton.

The form the city lifts its information from also includes your social security and driver’s license numbers.

We were told that information is redacted from the request.

The Supreme Court ruling was before e-mail came around and some wonder if it should be blacked out too.

Some customers said it’s given as a way to get a bill, not to get released to the public.

Voters also told WREG they think it's unfair to challenging candidates who may not know about the service and to utility customers who think they're giving their email just to get a bill.

“It's a shock to me. I had no idea that info was out there for anyone to ask for. It seems to me that someone who doesn't work for the city wouldn't know that,” said Jessica Schepman.

“It's a real privacy concern to me, and it doesn't sound like something that's public record,” said Sheila Hahn.

Political Commentator Otis Sanford is an expert in public records and thinks Germantown is misinterpreting that law.

“The Freedom of Information Act is to get information in the public interest. This is in political interest. It's outrageous and shame on anyone in Germantown who's doing this,” said Sanford.

WREG asked for a list of everyone who requested water bills.

The city said they were working on getting us an answer to that request. We’ll update this story when we receive it.