If you were at City Hall, promising a renewed commitment to open government, would you delete an untold number of emails that someone might want to see?
Of course you wouldn’t, or at the very least, you’d allow a full public hearing on the issue first.
But unless Sacramento city officials change course, the email purge is scheduled for Wednesday. It would be a huge mistake to proceed.
City Clerk Shirley Concolino’s office plans to keep emails that qualify as public records according to a retention schedule for each particular kind of record. For instance, emails on a planning project would be retained with other records on that project for 10 years past its completion. Emails related to council business would be kept permanently.
Only emails that officials decide are “transitory” – including those deemed to be personal – would be deleted after two years. The clerk’s office points out it plans to keep emails longer than many other California cities and beyond what state law requires.
Yet the city does not even have an estimate of how many are included in this first mass deletion. That alone is troubling.
Storage isn’t the major issue, Concolino says. It costs the city a paltry $3,400 a year to maintain the entire email library. Though that cost is projected to increase tenfold in 10 years, that’s still not a big budget item.
Last year, of the 3,000 formal public records act requests fielded by the city, only 53 included emails and only 19 were for emails older than two years, according to the clerk. Those 19 cases, however, required about $110,000 in staff time in the clerk’s office and city attorney’s office.
That money to preserve transparency is well-spent.
The city’s “good governance” push has already been tarnished. The City Council is discussing reforms through an ad hoc committee that meets in private – one of nearly 30 created since 2006 to debate major issues. This email purge would sully it even further.
Eye on Sacramento, the local watchdog group, sounded the alarm on Monday. It called for a six-month moratorium on deleting emails, until the open government initiative it is leading with the League of Women Voters finishes up.
While council members are aware of what is happening, they haven’t officially signed off. They are on recess until July 13. This issue is important enough to be put on hold until they return and can schedule a hearing and vote.