State Treasurer Dennis Milligan reversed a decision that would have required employees to delete emails after 30 days, after receiving negative reactions from some members of the press.
Jim Harris, Milligan’s chief of staff, said the policy’s aim was to save money and that it was consistent with the offices of the attorney general and secretary of state.
“We thought we’d try it, but there was a big reaction which caught us off guard,” he said. “No one reacted to it when the secretary of state did it. No one reacted when the attorney general did it.”
Employees in the state’s constitutional offices have no uniform policy on email retention, allowing some to delete correspondence within days or weeks.
Open-government advocates say the policies unreasonably restrict public access to public records and are inconsistent with other state records-retention policies. The Arkansas Legislature exempted constitutional offices — which include the governor, secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer — in a 2005 law that required state agencies to keep important records.
“Maybe it’s not the letter of the law, but it’s contrary to the intent of the law,” said Tres Williams, a spokesman for the Arkansas Press Association. “It has raised some concerns.”
Given the reaction, Harris said the policy is on hold.
“We’re trying to be good stewards of public money and not take up computer space that we would be required to upgrade later at a cost, but we thought being transparent was one of our promises,” he said.
Officials in some offices said they had no intention of changing their policies. Jason Cline, spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, said his office keeps emails for 30 days. The policy predates Martin.
“It’s a long-standing policy that we feel comfortable with keeping,” he said.
A spokesman for the governor and the state auditor said neither of their offices have a policy that would prevent email deletion.
“It is not something I have thought about at this point,” said State Auditor Andrea Lea.
Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin said he uses the Department of Information Systems to manage email and advised its workers to follow the standard practice for email retention. He said he was told it was 30 days.
But Griffin, a Republican from Little Rock, said he learned Monday that the Department of Information Systems has kept backups for only seven days because that was the practice of former Lt.GovLt.Gov. Mark Darr.
Griffin said he asked the Department of Information Systems to extend that period to 30 days and is open to extending it further on retaining his office’s emails.
Nikki Heck, a spokesman for the Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands, said her office follows the state’s policy. Emails that are generated while making important decisions are kept for at least four years, while nonsubstantive emails can be deleted immediately.
Employees are responsible for making the distinction and for filing records appropriately, Heck said.
“We wanted a transparent and consistent system, and after reading the state’s policy decided that it met our needs,” she said. “It is a reasonable policy, and it was easy for us to just utilize it instead of creating something of our own.”
Williams said the cost to store emails is negligible.
“I have probably a year’s worth in my inbox, and it’s not costing me a dime,” he said. “It would be more time-consuming for me to go in and delete them all than to keep them around. I don’t really understand what the incentive is to delete them.”
Print Headline: 30-day policy on email gets office rethink