Another directive from a manager at the city of Anaheim ordering the destruction of records has surfaced, with the latest memo, written by Anaheim Community Preservation Manager Sandra Sagert, ordering employees “not to archive emails for any purpose.”
Sagert’s memo states that any code enforcement employee who saves city emails will face “disciplinary action,” a threat nearly identical to one made in an email sent last week by Hannah Jones, a manager in Anaheim’s planning department.
First Amendment experts have called the orders to purge emails a violation of state law because records — without exception — must be kept for two years and can only be destroyed after authorization by the City Council.
The revelation of another records purge order shows city management’s troubling disregard for state records laws, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition.
“Hopefully the employees know — since the administration obviously doesn’t — that emails are public record. They generally cannot be deleted unless they are clearly exempt under the Public Records Act,” Scheer said.
The directives immediately followed a Voice of OC request, under the California Public Records Act, for communications to and from members of Anaheim City Council. An earlier Voice of OC records request revealed an email chain showing Councilwoman Kris Murray pressuring city staff on behalf of her private employer.
The orders also come at the end of a year in which several high-level Anaheim officials, including City Manager Thomas Wood, resigned in the wake of conflict of interest revelations in the city’s Building Division.
City officials argued that the email sent to Planning Department employees simply restated the city’s records policy. Open government experts say that the records retention policy is ambiguous and violates state law.
City officials — including Mayor Tom Tait, interim City Manager Bob Wingenroth and Sagert — could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday. Tait and Wingenroth have not responded to any questions since Voice of OC first reported the directive by Jones.
Terry Francke, Voice of OC’s open-government consultant and general counsel for Californians Aware, said the directives are tantamount to criminal offences.
“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,” said Francke.
Both emails referred to recent records requests. In the email sent to code enforcement employees, Sagert referred to an email, which she said was produced in response to a records request, that has a disparaging comment about a “popular property owner.” The identity of the property owner is not revealed.
“As you can imagine, the City Manager was not happy,” the email reads. “This incident was not in our division and I would like to keep it that way!”
Assistant Orange County District Attorney Mike Lubinski has called on city employees to contact the DA’s office about illegal records destruction.
“The employees need to come forward, and we’ll talk to them,” Lubinski said. “No doors are closed.”
— ADAM ELMAHREK