One of the first official actions taken by incoming San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer earlier this year was to pledge to keep all city emails around for the indefinite future.
Now the Republican mayor, a longtime privatization proponent, is quietly seeking to farm out the care and maintenance of the city's email archive to the free market, with as yet untold repercussions.
The saga dates back to February 27, when then-interim mayor Todd Gloria sent out a notice proclaiming that all city emails more than a year old would be erased beginning March 28.
"To date the City has not deleted e-mails and this has resulted in our City E-mail Systems being overburdened," said Gloria's missive, which added that if the draconian action weren’t taken quickly, the city would have to "purchase hardware for additional storage capacity in the future."
Gloria and his aides asserted the new equipment could be costly but provided few other details.
That brought a stern warning from Terry Franke, a San Francisco–based public-records-access advocate.
"This policy contravenes existing law. Emails clearly fall within the definition of a public record. Further, city records are required to be retained for a minimum of two years. Destruction of public records may also be punished criminally."
Like many a city-hall intrigue, the Gloria memo had a colorful, some say slightly sordid, political backstory.
City attorney Jan Goldsmith had been sued in January for refusing to release emails on his private account, as had Gloria himself.
The plot grew even thicker in March with endorsements of the controversial deletion policy surfacing from Goldsmith and city ethics chief Stacey Fulhorst.
With the city's apparent rush to delete drawing ever more public attention, the freshly elected mayor issued a statement saying, "Mayor Faulconer's staff is continuing to explore alternative solutions that result in greater cost effectiveness and improved email retention. We will keep you apprised."
Finally, on March 18 Faulconer issued a brief statement rescinding the mass deletion, saying, "All City e-mails will continue to be stored indefinitely."
Now a newly released request for proposal suggests that the city's email-management woes may be stickier than originally conceded.
"The City of San Diego’s current email archive solution is Office 365," says the July 11 document. "However it also has two legacy archives (Nearpoint, GroupWise) that it maintains for eDiscovery purposes.
"Currently staff has to search three email archives to complete eDiscovery requests.
"In the fall of 2014, [the San Diego Police Department] is expected to transition to the City’s Office 365 environment," the city's big-data story continues. "This will result in their eDiscovery personnel having to search Office 365 and their now legacy Nearpoint email archive for eDiscovery requests."
Stating the apparent obvious, the document says, "The current reliance on multiple archives and disparate eDiscovery tools is not sustainable."
According to the notice, Faulconer is currently looking to hand over the entire operation to a private contractor.
"Contractor hosted solutions are solicited for an email archive that will be [in] a cloud environment at a Contractor approved datacenter or on premise at one of the City of San Diego’s approved datacenters," says the document.
"This solution must be a turn-key solution that will provide a single email archive for all of the City of San Diego’s & SDPD’s email."
Most of the city is already using the Office 365 set-up, the notice says. "The City transitioned to this email archive solution in January 2014 with one department, San Diego Police Department, left to transition in the fall of 2014.
"Once SDPD transitions, all email and documents for the City of San Diego will be stored in this archive.
"The City’s present email retention policy is to retain all email documents; there is no periodic deletion of emails from any archive. Estimated size of the Office 365 archive is 1 [terabyte] as of May 30, 2014."
But not all of the old email is guaranteed to be converted to the new system, leaving more than a few unanswered questions about public access to dark doings at city hall.
"The City reserves the right to decide which email archives are converted due to its operational commitments. Contractor is not guaranteed that all legacy email archives will be converted; conversion will be at the City’s discretion."
“Technology capture method must prevent “spoliation” (alteration or destruction of information) by users and administrators."
The estimated cost of the privatization has yet to be revealed. The proposed deal would be for three years with two one-year options for extension, according to the document. Responses are due August 11.
Update 7/14/14, 2:50 p.m. — City ethics commission executive director Stacey Fulhorst has sent the following clarification: "I did not support the [Gloria] policy and made arrangements for Ethics Commission emails to be retained for a two-years period. (My signature was nothing more than an acknowledgement of a mayoral policy decision that applied to all departments.)"