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Email Transparency Increased At County Level; Watchdog Group Cries Foul

File photo
File photo

To better comply with public records requests and elevate the county's level of transparency, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors Tuesday implemented a policy requiring county employees to retain all emails for 90 days.

But the watchdog Californians Aware says the move was not enough to comply with state law. 

In a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor John Benoit away on vacation, the board authorized amending Policy A-50, which previously mandated that emails sent or received by county employees be archived for 45 days before deletion.

Under the amended policy, emails will have to be stored for three months before they can be purged from the system.

"This goes to more transparency, and I think the public does appreciate that," said Supervisor Jeff Stone, who joined Supervisor Kevin Jeffries in requesting the amendment.

Jeffries represents Lake Elsinore, Wildomar, Lakeland Village and other local jurisdictions, while Stone represents Temecula, Murrieta and Wine Country, among others.

They submitted a policy agenda document stating that the 45-day window often frustrated private parties seeking to obtain public records from the county.

"Telling a constituent that all records relating to a meeting held less than two months ago have already been deleted fuels suspicion and can make it difficult for staff to produce evidence that might otherwise prove their compliance with regard to alleged violations of policies or statutes," the supervisors wrote.

They said doubling the retention time for emails will not stress the county's data storage.

According to the Office of County Counsel, there is nothing in state law that necessitates lengthening storage time. However, the agency acknowledged that doing so would make complying with California Public Records Act requests easier. 

Terry Francke, who founded Californians Aware with his daughter, claims the county is not following the law. 

"Actually, state law sets a minimum preservation period of two years for any record not required to be kept longer. There is no exception for emails," he said via email.

Francke pointed out state code on the issue:

Government Code §26202. The board may authorize the destruction or disposition of any record, paper, or document which is more than two years old and which was prepared or received in any manner other than pursuant to a state statute or county charter. The board may authorize the destruction or disposition of any record, paper or document which is more than two years old, which was prepared or received pursuant to state statute or county charter, and which is not expressly required by law to be filed and preserved if the board determines by four-fifths (4/5) vote that the retention of any such record, paper or document is no longer necessary or required for county purposes. Such records, papers or documents need not be photographed, reproduced or microfilmed prior to destruction and no copy thereof need be retained.

To read more about state codes regulating records, click here.

--City News Service and Toni McAllister contributed to this report.

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