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San Diego Investigates E-Mail Retention Policies

"It has become abundantly clear to me that city retention policies may not be known to all and that our own systems may not be providing critical safety nets to prevent the elimination of e-mails"

by / March 19, 2006
Earlier this month, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders sent a memo to the City Council, saying he had created a task force to evaluate e-mail retention policies and practices.

"Over the course of the past few days," said Sanders in the memo, "it has become abundantly clear to me that city retention policies may not be known to all and that our own systems may not be providing critical safety nets to prevent the elimination of e-mails. The simple fact is that there are a number of disparate policies and system practices across the city that merit immediate review. The goal of the task force will be to make our retention policies definite and known to all employees."

Sanders appointed Matt McGarvey, action CIO, to chair the task force.

Sanders goes on to say that earlier this year the San Diego Union-Tribune requested the e-mail of a former city manager, but nothing was found, even though records in November 2005 indicated more than 8,000 stored e-mail messages.

Sanders said all city e-mail is backed up on tape for two weeks as an emergency recovery measure, not as part of a records retention policy.

The mayor has asked the task for to answer the following questions:
  • What are the state and city's records retention laws?
  • What are the city's policies addressing e-mail retention? Have those policies changed over time and if so, how and why? Are there government best practices/benchmarks for e-mail retention? What do other cities across the state do?
  • What are the city's practices for retaining e-mails, including those emptied from individuals' trash cans? What is the rationale for the disparate policies across the city? Same set of questions with respect to best practices and the policies of other government agencies.
  • What are the practical implications of retaining e-mails over long periods of time? Will we need an add-on solution? Do we presently have that capacity? If not, what will the cost be, weighed against the benefit?
Results
Last Thursday the mayor reported that the San Diego Data Processing Corporation had recovered 9,000 e-mails from the former city manager, from a backup tape run during a server consolidation. The mayor said that this was not part of a routine backup, so the task force's work is continuing, and the data was given to the city attorney to handle the public records request.

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