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Auburn's new email policy, hardware upgrades public records

Server will contain about 600,000 messages
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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This year, the City of Auburn went live with its new hardware upgrade that will allow it to store emails for up to two years, meaning greater access to public records and an easier process for handling those requests.

Prior to the enactment of the new policy in July, city officials and staff had not been required to retain all emails and could delete them after 30 days. Now, all emails – with some exceptions – must be copied to an address on the city server that will log them for two years.

“It won’t be hard a year from now to go into that system and determine exactly what is in that system and who it is for,” said Andy Heath, Auburn’s administrative services director.

The city spent $82,502 on upgrades to its email, archiving system and Microsoft Office licensing.

The issue had been brought to council after Auburn resident Victoria Connolly and the First Amendment Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city. It stemmed from Connolly’s failed attempt to retrieve emails from councilmembers’ personal email accounts, which they used to communicate with constituents, pertaining to an initiative for Auburn to become a charter city.

In the spirit of the new ordinance, the Journal obtained City Council emails from September through October by a public records request, a process that lasted 11 business days. During that time, council had been wrestling with the new food truck ordinance, as well as an update to the city’s signage regulation.

Emails prior to the new policy taking effect are no longer in the system, but since July, there are about 1,000 emails in the council record.

“Some of those certainly are duplicates,” City Manager Bob Richardson said. “That’s the total number: everything that was sent, received, deleted, back-and-forth, and that’s typically between staff and council member.”

When the system has two years of emails logged, it will contain about 4,400 emails in the council record alone and 600,000 total emails in the city record, Richardson said.

Per the new policy, all emails sent to or from the city’s elected officials and staff must be sent from or copied to an address on the city server so they can be preserved and made available to the public.

“Privileged items,” legal advice, personnel records and some other communications will remain confidential as required by law and the Public Records Act. Also exempt are emails sent to or from Auburn residents, business persons and property owners that are not sent to a city address and those received by elected officials in their personal lives.

In the 661-page electronic document sample obtained by the Journal, a view of some of the behind-the-scenes workings of the council and staff is revealed, much of which was later discussed at City Council meetings, as well as some more personal dialogue.

The amount of redaction appeared to be minimal, with text blacked out in small chunks with the exception of what appeared to be an entire message that had been covered. The emails had been reviewed by the assistant city attorney who vetted them for exempt information.

There was an eye-catching note from Richardson to the council saying he had been contacted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, only to later find out it was part of an attempted “shake down” by a private company.

Asked about the incident, Richardson said someone from the organization left him a voicemail saying they were from the EEOC and were going to audit the city’s hiring practices. When Richardson called back, a representative from the company – in no way affiliated with the EEOC – attempted to lure the city to advertise in its periodical, he said.

“The city was not interested in the opportunity,” Richardson said. “There’s a lot of complaints from different private and public organizations (about similar experiences).”

When the amended meeting schedule for November and December was broached in mid-October, council members Dr. Bill Kirby and Keith Nesbitt, who were up for re-election at the time, both commented about their potential exit from their seats.

Kirby and Nesbitt edged out challenger Gary Moffat in the November election.

When a September crash that involved eight Placer High School students shook the community, Richardson sent a memo to councilmembers notifying them of the situation and listing the students’ last names.

“They are in our prayers,” Kirby wrote. “Thank you for keeping me informed.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews