The city of Anaheim is charging Voice of OC $19,000 for copies of public records that high-level officials have deleted from city computers.
The city's charge is in response to a Jan. 25 request under the California Public Records Act for city emails sent and received by department heads that had been deleted from city servers and computers in the previous 60 days. The request followed revelations that Planning Department managers had ordered employees to purge public records.
In her response to the request, Anaheim City Attorney Cristina Talley cited a clause in the Public Records Act that allows governmental bodies to charge for "data compilation, extraction or programming, which in this case is estimated to be $19,000."
Terry Francke, general counsel for open-government advocacy group Californians Aware, said the city has no right to levy such a charge for records that were illegally deleted in the first place.
"The public, in asking for an email that is 38, 39, 40 or plus days old should not have to pay the cost of reconstructing that record simply because it's been dissolved by a deliberate act of the city,” Francke said.
The fee is the latest development in a growing battle over public records between Anaheim and both Voice of OC and Californians Aware that began in the wake of the orders to purge records. Francke has said his organization is considering a lawsuit against the city.
The purge memos from officials in the Planning Department first surfaced in December. Later that week, employees became alarmed when a planning manager was seen shredding large volumes of documents.
Since then, employees have said that high-level officials are withholding records that should be public when responding to Voice of OC Public Records Act requests. The employees, fearing retaliation, have requested anonymity.
Emails are automatically purged from city computers after 30 days per an administrative regulation — a policy, according to Francke, that is out of compliance with state law, which requires that cities store all records for at least two years. City officials are considering revising this policy and extending the amount of time emails are kept.
The city's email systems are backed up on storage tapes for two years, the regulation states. Francke said the backups appear to be the city's attempt to fulfill state law's requirement to store emails for two years.
However, Francke said, charging the public thousands of dollars to retrieve these records is not what the Legislature had in mind when it wrote the law. "The Legislature wrote to keep records for two years. And that is not what Anaheim appears to be doing,” he said.
Voice of OC has requested an itemized accounting of the $19,000 charge.