Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait directed city officials Tuesday night to review the city’s records policy for compliance with federal and state laws and to recommend improvements to the policy by next City Council meeting.
Tait also asked city officials to devise a better way to communicate records policies to employees.
Tait’s directive comes after Voice of OC published memos from supervisors in the city’s planning and code enforcement departments ordering employees to destroy emails and other correspondence or face “disciplinary action.”
The memos sparked outcries from First Amendment experts, who said the orders ask employees to violate state records laws that require nearly all records be retained for at least two years.
The orders to destroy records were especially egregious, experts said, because they came after Voice of OC filed a request under the California Public Records Act for communications between various city departments and council members. The orders to purge records alluded to recent records requests that could embarrass public officials.
Terry Francke, general counsel for the open-government advocacy group Californians Aware, said that the directives should spark a criminal investigation by the district attorney’s office.
Anaheim is but one of a number of cities in Orange County that purge emails in as little as 30 days, a Voice of OC investigation in 2010 found.
First Amendment experts said the cities are violating state records laws. After receiving legal threats from CalAware, the city of Irvine reformed its records policy to archive emails identified as “business records” for two years.
Although Tait wasn’t specific in his directive to staff, he said in an interview this week that keeping emails for at least two years is “reasonable.”
“It’s not ridiculous,” Tait said. “I think it’s reasonable.” He added that he would be receptive to recommendations from CalAware. Francke has vowed that his organization would be investigating the city’s records policy.
Emails on city employees’ computers are purged automatically after they are 30 days old. To archive an email, the staffer needs permission from a superior, according to interim City Manager Bob Wingenroth.
“I think we do need to look at the email policy,” Wingenroth said.
— ADAM ELMAHREK