Anaheim Reconsidering City’s Retention Policy for Emails

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Responding to recent revelations that managers ordered employees to purge emails, Anaheim city officials will study the cost of storing the messages on city computers for extended periods and will train city employees on records management.

Under the city’s current policy, city emails are automatically deleted after they are 30 days old,  then purged from servers seven days after that. Interim City Manager Bob Wingenroth said the city sends and receives about 8 million emails a year.

The city’s email policies came under scrutiny late last month after managers in the Planning Department sent memos to employees ordering them to delete unnecessary emails or face “disciplinary action.”

The orders came after Voice of OC filed a request under the California Public Records Act for copies of emails to and from City Council members.

Voice of OC’s disclosure of the purge memos triggered sharp criticism from open-government experts, who said the memos appear to order employees to illegally destroy records.

Under state law, all city records must be kept at least two years. Public records experts have maintained that emails, except those that don’t relate to city business, also must be kept at least two years.

Terry Francke, general counsel for the open-government advocacy group Californians Aware, said the orders were especially egregious because they asked employees to destroy records that had been requested by Voice of OC.

“I’ll put it like this: If it were the DA’s office that made the [public records] request you made, and if that were followed by the kind of request [destruction of records] you’re talking about there, I’m sure there would be a criminal investigation,” Francke said.

The issue was discussed during the City Council meeting Tuesday night.

Mayor Tom Tait said the city’s policies on records should be molded with a focus on transparency. Emails that could embarrass public officials — which were singled out for destruction in the Planning Department purge memos — should be available to the public, he said.

“I think overall the policy in the city is we should be proud of everything we do, say or write, and when we make mistakes — which we will, because we’re all human — it should be open to the public,” Tait said.

Senior Assistant District Attorney Bill Feccia declared last week that his office would not investigate records purges at Anaheim City Hall unless employees come forward with evidence.

“We don’t do investigations on rumors, on anonymous sources or on newspaper articles.” Feccia said. “If people have evidence — if there’s evidence — then let them come forward, walk through our front door and present us with that evidence.

“But the evidence that we’ve seen so far doesn’t warrant an investigation on our part,” he said.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

 

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