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Friday, Feb 28, 2014 - Last Blog on Earth | News

Public record no more

City of San Diego invites CalAware legal challenge over policy to purge emails after one year

By Joshua Emerson Smith

The city of San Diego has decided to delete all emails older than a year, according to an internal memo issued Thursday by interim Mayor Todd Gloria. The change in policy includes electronic communications, defined as “email, memoranda, calendars, tasks and attached documents.” 

The authorization was signed off by Gloria and several of the city’s top officials, including the City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and the Chief Operating Officer Scott Chadwick. City Council approval is not required for the administrative policy change.

On March 28, the city will start automatically deleting emails that are older than a year, said Gloria's spokesperson Katie Keach.

“Emails deleted from the city's email systems will be permanently unavailable unless city staff takes affirmative steps to retain them outside of the city's email systems,” she said in an email.

It's unclear if city departments will be required to back up their own emails on a separate storage system or if such measures would be discretionary.

To indefinitely retain emails the city would need to replace its archive system in the next fiscal year at a cost of roughly $500,000, Keach said. No money has been set aside in the in the 2015 budget for that purpose.

“In developing an email retention policy, there was a need to balance availability of information with the fiscal costs related to its storage,” she said.

This type of policy “invites litigation,” said Terry Francke, general counsel for CalAware, an advocacy group for government transparency.

“An unknown but no doubt growing number of cities have been taking steps in recent years to purge emails on a 30-, 60-, or 90-day horizon,” he said in an email. “We believe that state law requires them to preserve emails for at least two years, like other records.”

After learning about the policy change, Francke sent a letter to Gloria, saying that the policy "contravenes existing law" and that "destruction of public records may also be punishable criminally." 

The letter asks Gloria to suspend the policy until CalAware has "had time to seek judicial intervention." It goes on to say that if this doesn't happen by 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, "we will have no choice but to seek a injunction and writ of mandate ordering the City to cease the destruction of these public records in violation of the Government Code."

Update: On Tuesday, Mayor Kevin Faulconer's communications director, Matt Awbrey, tweeted that Faulconer was putting the email retention policy on hold "pending further review."

Write to joshuas@sdcitybeat.com.

 
 
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