Anaheim: Want Public Records? Buy Us Two New Computers

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Anaheim officials say they need to buy two $7,000 servers to comply with a Voice of OC request, made under the California Public Records Act, for emails deleted from department heads’ computers and city servers.

Voice of OC requested an itemized accounting after the city attorney’s office responded that producing the deleted emails would cost the city $19,000 and that Voice of OC would have to foot the bill.

In her response to the records request, 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 Californians Aware, an open-government advocacy group, said the city has no right to levy such a charge for records that were illegally deleted in the first place.

Instead of an itemized accounting, city spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz wrote in an email that the $19,000 charge is for the purchase of the servers and $5,000 in staff time.

The City’s 13 departments are hosted on two separate servers, which include 13 different databases. As a result significant work would be necessary to retrieve the specific emails requested, which are currently stored in a non-itemized manner in accordance with the AR 155 [Anaheim’s email retention regulation]. To ensure the integrity of our current servers and records are not jeopardized, the City would be required to purchase two new servers, in the approximate amount of $7,000 each, to guarantee the current environment is not disrupted. Additionally labor for necessary installation and programming etc. would be necessary, all of which accounts for the $19,000 figure.

Voice of OC requested deleted emails after memos were sent to employees in the Planning Department ordering them to purge emails containing information that could put the city in an unflattering light. The memos threatened employees with disciplinary action if they did not comply.

Open-government experts said the orders appeared to ask employees to violate state law, which requires that all city records be kept for at least two years.

Memos from Planning Department officials ordering the purge 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.

City officials have also violated the state’s records retention laws in other ways, according to Francke.

Voice of OC requested former City Manager Thomas Wood’s calendar appointments and reports of records compiled by city employees in response to records requests. All were destroyed, according to memos from Talley’s office.

Also, printed copies of emails were turned over to Voice of OC with large portions of the text missing. The missing text appeared to be the result of a printer error, but when asked for complete copies, City Clerk Linda Andal said the emails had already been purged.

Mayor Tom Tait had said that City Manager Bob Wingenroth would soon be releasing a new e-mail retention policy.

Californians Aware is preparing a lawsuit against the city to demand reform of the city’s handling of public records.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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