Much of the money that the city plans to save by purging all year-old emails may be spent fighting lawsuits.
The policy change was announced in a February 27 memo to city employees. The reason, reads the memo, email storage is expensive and the city can save up to $500,000 if old emails are deleted.
The policy isn't going over so well with open-government advocates as well as some councilmembers.
Today, March 3, Cory Briggs, attorney for San Diegans for Open Government, sent a letter to incoming mayor Kevin Faulconer and city councilmembers threatening a lawsuit if the policy is adopted. On February 28, open-government advocacy group Californians Aware also spoke of possible legal action against the city.
Briggs claims the policy is illegal. “The government code prohibits cities — including charter cities — from destroying any 'record, document, instrument, book or paper' unless the records are at least two years old and are 'no longer required.'"
On top of that, the same section prohibits the destruction of records unless they are "reproduced, recorded or otherwise preserved."
Lastly, purging emails is just plain "stupid," according to Briggs. "Many legal issues that the city could face are subject to statutes of limitations allowing lawsuits to be filed more than two years after the disputes arise. A substantial amount of city business is conducted by email. To delete those messages before the limitations period expires is foolish and imprudent at best."
One day after the memo was made public, councilmember David Alvarez requested the policy be discussed by city council before implementation.
"I am troubled by the proposed implementation of this policy as I believe it conflicts with the spirit of several open government laws," stated Alvarez. "In the interest of the City's commitment to open and transparent government, I would request that you docket an item at City Council to discuss the Council's position on the implementation...prior to it taking effect."