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Council approves new email retention policy

Some correspondence considered public record, some protected
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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City Council approved a new email retention policy Monday night, which requires emails on the city server to be saved for two years. The policy change follows a lawsuit filed by an Auburn resident and the First Amendment Coalition. The suit requested city council members produce copies of emails related to the initiative for Auburn to become a charter city sent to and from their personal email accounts. The Auburn resident a part of the lawsuit is Victoria Connolly, who is also a member of Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community, a group challenging the environmental report for a North Auburn site where Wal-Mart is expected to build a store. Mayor Kevin Hanley and Connolly have both stated a settlement is close to becoming official, however the details will not be released until it does. Hanley said he is pleased that the city council has strengthened the city?s email policy and was able to take a proactive approach in settling the matter without going to court. He said based on precedent in the state, the city probably would have won the lawsuit, but decided not to spend taxpayers? money to fight it. ?There is no case in California were emails have considered public record, but we thought, ?do we want to spend a lot of money to fight this lawsuit or do we want to be proactive?? We aggressively pursed a good policy,? Hanley said. Council member Bridget Powers agreed that the changes are positive. ?I am glad for this email retention policy,? Powers said. ?It is probably something we should have put in place as soon as email became an everyday part of our lives.? The policy requires all emails sent to or from city elected officials and staff to be sent via or copied to an address on the city server, according to a council report prepared by city staff. Any emails sent to a majority of council members pertaining to city business will also be required to be copied to the city server, to be preserved and made available as part of the public record. All email exchanges between city officials and city staff on matters of city business will be subject to the policy, except those exempt from the California Public Records Act. Bob Richardson, city manager, added that the city will have to increase its storage capacity on the server to accommodate the changes. ?In general, you are going to need the storage capacity for two years for the entire organization,? Richardson said. The upgrades could come at a cost of roughly $46,000 if they were completed on their own. However, Richardson said the city would look at achieving a cost savings by combining it with other upgrades. A proposal on the upgrades, prepared by staff, could be heard as soon as the next council meeting, he added. In order to protect council member communications with constituents and First Amendment rights, the retention policy will not apply when Auburn residents, business owners and/or property owners communicate with city elected officials over email accounts not sent to a city hall address. Emails sent or received by elected officials in their personal, professional and political lives that are unrelated to city business are also exempt from becoming a matter of public record. Moving forward, the city will not print non-city hall email addresses on council member business cards or other materials printed at city expense. They are also no longer listed on the city website. Connolly said most of the objectives she had in filing the lawsuit have been accomplished through the revised policy. ?I think the changes to the policy are all very positive. I agree with most of the comments that the council members stated. I think basically that this is going to make more transparency available to the public,? Connolly said. She added that retaining the emails for two years is part of the California Public Records Act requirements. Although City Council members used to list their private email addresses on the city website and did not have city email accounts, she said she decided not to pursue that part of the issue further because that has changed and most of the other goals were accomplished. ?It feels good,? Connolly said. ?The activist in me is feeling good. We got most of what we wanted and we were concerned about spending taxpayer money as well.? Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.