Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oh, so all you have to do is delete? Sweet!

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 at 10:53 AM

File this under WTF, over? Who concocted this asinine rule? Oh, right. Someone who knows the value of covering their own ass.

Government e-mails are public records - at least until officials hit the delete key.

For N.C. municipalities, many e-mails and other correspondence can be destroyed using a subjective criteria: when their "administrative value ends."

That means elected officials or public employees may preserve e-mails for months, years - or seconds.

"Typically once I read an e-mail, I have the information and I delete it," said Charlotte City Council member Michael Barnes. "It's just not practical for me to catalog each and every e-mail that I get. When I'm asked to give them, if I have them, I do. I don't have anything to hide."

Last summer, Gov. Bev Perdue ordered the state executive branch to keep all e-mails, no matter how mundane, for 10 years.

But outside the executive office in Raleigh, state guidelines for preserving public records are far less strict.

Media and public watchdogs say preservation of e-mail is critical to having a strong public records law. With e-mail becoming more and more prevalent, open-records advocates say it's an important window into how tax dollars are spent and how government operates.

"From looking at stored e-mails, sometimes really important things can be discovered," said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh. "In many, many cases, a story might not originate with an e-mail, but it gets fleshed out with an e-mail."

In December, the Observer requested six months of e-mails and other correspondence related to the possible purchase of Eastland Mall by the city.

City staff produced a foot-long box of records. But only three council members - Nancy Carter, Andy Dulin and Susan Burgess - produced e-mail about Eastland.

After repeated requests for e-mails of other council members, the Charlotte City Attorney's Office said in early February that the other eight council members had deleted the e-mails.

Read the rest of this Charlotte Observer article, by Steve Harrison, here.

Then, get on the horn with your local officials and let them know what you think about their CYA policy. (You might remind them that the delete key they're using belongs to us, as does the message they're deleting ... no matter how blah or extreme.)

P.S. It's Sunshine Week, which is -- as described by their Web site:

Though spearheaded by journalists, Sunshine Week is about the public's right to know what its government is doing, and why. Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.

Sunshine Week is a nonpartisan initiative whose supporters are conservative, liberal and everything in between.

Why transparency matters:

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