After remaining silent nearly a week on an Anaheim Planning Department manager's order that department employees purge their records, Mayor Tom Tait Thursday issued a statement acknowledging that the order was "a mistake."
"The City has a retention schedule and administrative regulations for the management of public records in accordance with state laws," Tait declared in an email sent to news media. "Unfortunately, these emails within the Planning Department and the manner in which they were articulated were a mistake."
"We are taking corrective action to assure this does not happen again," he added.
However, Tait's email also states that the city's records retention policies are "in accordance with state laws," a statement that open-records advocate Terry Francke says is incorrect.
Voice of OC first reported that Anaheim Planning Department manager Hannah Jones' email threatened "disciplinary action" against employees who don't purge certain emails and correspondence.
First Amendment experts have said such orders to purge records violate state law, because records — without exception — must be retained for two years and may be destroyed only after authorization by the City Council.
Tait's statement does not address a second, similar order from Community Preservation Manager Sandra Sagert, which surfaced Thursday. Sagert's email orders code enforcement employees "not to archive any emails for any purpose."
Both emails refer to recent requests for records filed under the California Public Records Act. Both emails were sent just after Voice of OC filed a request for records of communications to and from Anaheim City Council members.
Francke said that the revelation of Sagert's email — which was sent a day before Jones' order to destroy records — suggests that the destruction order came from the top ranks of city government.
"Is it just coincidental that these two quite sweeping directives from middle management started coming out around the same time?" said Francke, who is general counsel for Californians Aware.
Francke says the law requires such records to be maintained.
"What the city is doing is administratively opting out of compliance with state law," Francke said.
The revelations have sparked CalAware to investigate. The organization will be requesting copies of the city's records policies, and if they violate state law, Francke said, his organization will request corrections.
Francke threatened a lawsuit against the city if its officials don't comply.
"If they stand by this and dig in their heels, we'll have to let a court decide," Francke said.
— ADAM ELMAHREK