The Orange County district attorney’s office will not investigate ongoing reports of records destruction at Anaheim City Hall unless employees contact the DA’s office with evidence, declared Bill Feccia, senior assistant district attorney, declared late last week in an interview.
During the interview Feccia launched into a tirade against the media, saying he would be largely ignoring newspaper accounts on potentially criminal acts in Anaheim.
He said he vowed last year not to conduct investigations based on news stories after the DA initiated a probe after media reports about computer contracts awarded by Orange County Assessor Webster Guillory. Guillory ended up being cleared by the investigation.
“We don’t do investigations on rumors, on anonymous sources, or on newspaper articles. 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,” Feccia said.
“I already spent six to eight months of my professional time last year chasing newspaper accounts on the assessor’s office. I’m just not going to spend six to eight months of this year chasing ghosts.”
Feccia’s announcement comes after revelations of memos written by supervisors in Anaheim’s Planning and Community Preservation departments ordering employees to purge emails and other correspondence. Experts on the state’s records laws said the memos appear to ask employees to illegally destroy records.
The directives were especially egregious, experts said, because they came after Voice of OC filed a request under the California Public Records Act for communications between council members and various city departments.
“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 Terry Francke, general counsel for the open-government advocacy group Californians Aware.
Voice of OC then reported that City Hall employees were alarmed when they witnessed Community Preservation Manager Sandra Sagert, an author of one of the memos, shredding large volumes of documents.
One source said maintenance workers last week hauled out six 5-gallon trash bags filled with shredded documents from the fifth floor of City Hall. “She’s [Sagert] been on a shredding spree since last Friday,” the source said.
City officials insisted that the records shredding was legal. City spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz said the shredded documents were business license forms, which are exempt from public disclosure. The documents are scanned electronically and then destroyed as “part of the business license renewal process,” Ruiz wrote in an email to Voice of OC.
Mayor Tom Tait directed city officials to review the city’s records retention policies after the memos were made public. The City Council is supposed to discuss the policies at the next council meeting Jan. 24.
— ADAM ELMAHREK
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