Scott Lewis on Politics Logo

VOSD member Chelsea Klaseus got our attention this morning when she posted that the city of San Diego had told staff it would be deleting permanently all emails older than a year.

And I was sad to confirm she was correct.

Katie Keach, the spokeswoman for Council President Todd Gloria, sent the thinking in an email to me:

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

If the City of San Diego were to continue with an indefinite e-mail retention period, we would need to look at replacing the archive system in the next fiscal year (and no funding was requested for FY 2015).  One time costs to replace our Nearpoint system range from $400k – $500k.

It’s important to note that the City’s retention policy allows for far longer retention than some comparable jurisdictions. SD County’s retention policy is 60 days, and the City of Phoenix’s is 30 days.

If Kevin Faulconer upholds this policy, it would be a terrible first step in transparency for the new mayor, who trumpeted his open government credentials in the campaign and has formed an advisory group to help him implement the principles he discussed.

Investigative reporters and residents regularly review emails older than a year. Just recently, I requested and got correspondence related to this botched effort to get new parking meters. Some of the emails went back to September 2012 and helped me understand the background.

And I don’t care what other cities do. San Diego has had a tough decade of scandals and suspicion. Seems like the wrong time to get rid of records.

“COMPLETELY BAD MOVE for open government and transparency,” tweeted former City Councilman Carl DeMaio, who’s now running for Congress.

I understand there has to be limits. Perhaps the city can hold off on burning its records and seek suggestions on alternatives.

Update: Californians Aware, the government transparency advocacy group led by Terry Francke, may sue to stop the destruction of old emails. Francke sent a letter to city leaders today. Here’s an excerpt:

This policy contravenes existing law. Emails clearly fall within the definition of a public record. Government Code §6252(e). Further, city records are required to be retained for a minimum of two years. Government Code §34090 et seq. Destruction of public records may also be punishable criminally.

Therefore, we request that you immediately direct all city officials and staff to cancel the wholesale destruction of public records announced in your memorandum and that the City rescind or revise this and any other policy authorizing the wholesale destruction of city emails older than one year.

Due to the time-sensitive nature of this issue, we request that you respond confirming agreement to, at the very least, suspend this practice until we have had time to seek judicial intervention if necessary. However, if you do not respond confirming that there will be no purge of any public records by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 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.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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