Retaining email is cheap and takes no effort. Retaining email increases transparency.
City attorneies in Orange County and representatives of Californians Aware are clashing over emails and their status under the law requiring cities to preserve records for at least two years.
The Voice of OC reports:
An Irvine City Council resolution passed in 2002 calls for emails in the system older than 30 days to be destroyed. It bases the policy on a section of the government code that allows a city to destroy a record when it is “no longer required.”
McKee called the resolution “clearly illegal.”
“Nothing in the CPRA [California Public Records Act] or Gov’t Code sect. 34090 allows the wholesale destruction of email records,” McKee wrote in an email.
City officials have defended their practice of destroying emails as legal and, in at least one case, argue there simply aren’t enough resources to identify and save emails considered public records.
Instead they have decided to throw everything out? It takes no staff effort to simply save everything as many large corporations do, with little expense to the taxpayer.
Huntington Beach City Attorney Jennifer McGrath, whose city regularly destroys emails after they become more than 90 days old, says the city’s policy is in line with state law. McGrath acknowledged that emails are public records subject to the state’s public records law but said that the law governing retention of city records does not apply to emails.
“They [emails] are not records intended to be retained in the normal course of business for the city,” McGrath said. She added that the Public Records Act does not specify retention time.
“The law gives local agencies the ability to determine what’s a public record that is of lasting importance to the conduct of the public agency’s business and that needs to be maintained,” Speers said.
McKee counters that McGrath’s interpretation of state law is wrong. He said email, as a medium, does not change the fact that as a written communication it is required to be kept as long as other public records.
“The two-year retention applies to all public records. I don’t know how she’s coming up with that interpretation,” McKee said.
McKee had a recent showdown with Lake Forest over its retention policy. The city was about to move into a policy of purging emails in Microsoft Outlook that are more than 90 days old.
He caught wind of the plan, and one of his attorneys, Kelly Aviles, sent a letter to the city attorney in September threatening a writ of mandate to stop destroying city emails. Since then, the city has indefinitely postponed its destruction policy and is working to provide city employees with public records training, according to city Public Information Officer Debra Rose.
“Our whole purpose of this is to make sure records are handled properly” Rose said.
McKee says he is still waiting for the city to send him a draft of an approach that will satisfy the law. He also said he hopes the experience with Lake Forest will be the starting point of, eventually, sweeping reform of local governments’ policies regarding emails.
“We thought this would be a good place to really come up with something to tout to other agencies as a reasonable approach,” McKee said.
The City of Encinitas destroys emails at the will of each account user. Important memos can be kept from the public if there is not at least one council member willing to carefully retain email. Here is an example.
This issue was first brought up in 2004, and again this August via email to the council. There was no response from the council to the August email.
Retaining email is cheap. Retaining email increases transparency.