The City of Bakersfield has abandoned its plan to dispose of a large archive of e-mails after learning that preservation would not cost as much as feared, reports the Bakersfield Californian. But from here on, e-mails will be automatically purged on a rolling basis 30 days after creation, unless printed or otherwise saved by the affirmative act of an employee based on his or her judgment about the message’s importance. The newspaper opposes that policy and is weighing its options.Like a growing number of other municipalities, Bakersfield deems e-mail, as “transitory” documentation like a phone call message slip or scribbled note, to be exempt from the state law that requires cities to preserve their records for a minimum of two years. But that judgment is not rooted in any California statute or case law. Moreover, the two-year preservation mandate expressly exempts law enforcement surveillance videotape from the preservation rule, a fact that suggests that if lawmakers had wanted to exempt other media as too ephemeral to be worth keeping, it could have done so.
There is also the fact that the California Public Records Act expressly includes e-mail in the definition of media presumed to be accessible to the public, and the reality that e-mail exchanges often have the same significance as conversational transcripts in the tracing of how decisions evolve, and who was or was not involved in or aware of them. The only “transitory” thing about these threads is the pressing concern that some may have to see that they never see the light of day.