Playing Copycat With the Public Records Law

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Officials in Orange County cities routinely delete emails in as few as 30 days after they are written and in doing so say they are not violating state laws on record retention and disclosure because the records are “transitory communications.”

This term may sound good, but it has no legal significance, according to First Amendment advocate and Voice of OC open government consultant Terry Francke.

“A lot of this is clearly the product of the kind of copycat you see between and among bureaucracies that look over their shoulder and see that everyone else is doing it,” Francke told me during the course of my reporting on last week’s story on email destruction.

“There’s just nothing to support that in the law.”

Francke said it is just as wrong for officials to determine that certain emails are correspondence that need to be saved and others not. He calls this an example of “a set of determinations being fabricated without any support in the statutes or in case law.”

“Email is correspondence — that’s what it is,” Francke said.



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