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Mayor Todd Gloria is proposing San Diego shift away from its unusual policy of retaining city emails forever and instead keep them for five years, which he says would be the longest retention policy in the state and nation.

Gloria says the proposed policy would maintain San Diego’s status as a highly open and transparent city, while also saving money and speeding up public records requests by allowing deletion of millions of emails dating back to 2008.

“This policy I’m proposing for the city of San Diego to retain emails for five years demonstrates our commitment to transparency while also managing taxpayer dollars responsibly,” Gloria said.

Government watchdog group Californians Aware praised Gloria on Monday for proposing a retention policy that is more than twice the length of the two-year policies adopted by most cities.

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But the group stressed that Gloria is only proposing that San Diego do what’s appropriate and necessary for government to be transparent and for democracy to work well.

“This would just be San Diego conforming with what people already expect them to do,” said Kelly Aviles, general counsel for CalAware. “This really is the way that the public gets to participate in government.”

Gloria’s proposal is slated for discussion Wednesday by the City Council’s Rules Committee at a meeting scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, chair of that committee, said Monday that he is still assessing Gloria’s proposal.

“Records retention is vital to our commitment to good government and accountability, but we must balance this with the constraints presented by the City’s current indefinite email retention policy,” Elo-Rivera said.

A five-year retention policy is a significant shift for Gloria. As interim mayor, he proposed in early 2014 that San Diego begin deleting emails after one year because of cost concerns.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who took over as mayor in March 2014, abandoned that idea and created a task force that proposed a variety of options that failed to gain any momentum.

Until now, no other proposals have emerged for the city to veer away from retaining emails forever.

Gloria’s staff met with local media companies and the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists during the process of crafting the proposal.

Kelly Davis, president of the SPJ board, praised the proposal Monday.

“A minimum five-year retention period is a great starting point,” she said. “We look forward to offering more feedback as this policy makes its way through the City Council.”

Gloria’s staff also analyzed the email retention policies of other local government agencies. Los Angeles keeps emails for three years. Two-year policies are in place in Carlsbad, La Mesa, El Cajon, National City, Poway and the San Diego Unified School District.

San Diego County government and some local cities keeps emails for 60 days.

State law says emails, which are classified as public records, must be maintained two years. But the law provides exceptions for records deemed to be superfluous or inconsequential, and some agencies have decided that allows them to delete routine emails earlier than the two-year requirement.

Under Gloria’s proposal, emails connected to litigation would not be deleted no matter how old they are. In addition, his proposal would not change a city policy requiring 10-year retention for emails important enough to be deemed a city record.

The city sends and receives about 90 million emails a year, making the indefinite retention of emails costly and making city efforts to comply with public records requests cumbersome and time-consuming, Gloria said.

Additionally, emails from before 2014 are part of an archaic system that is much harder to search. Some email searches in response to public records requests take more than 24 hours, the mayor said. And the number of public records requests received by the city each year has increased from 1,954 in 2015 to 6,578 in 2021.

Shifting to five-year retention would reduce city costs over the next five years from $1.48 million to $266,000, Gloria’s staff estimates.

Gloria is proposing that city staff be trained this fall on the new policy, which would take effect in February 2023.

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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