On Friday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had a sparsely attended summit to discuss the state government’s official email policy. The final outcome is an eyebrow-raiser, with the governor deciding that in many cases state employees can delete any official email at will.
Cuomo has been under fire for the state’s previous practice of deleting all government emails 90 days after delivery, but his new policy didn’t assuage transparency advocates.
Instead of the automatic deletion policy, Cuomo announced that state employees at all levels could manually delete any email that no longer retained any “value.” But the assessment of “value” seems to be completely up to the employee. As one reporter who covers the state capitol quipped, “what could possibly go wrong” with that?
During the proceedings, Cuomo’s counsel Alphonso David defended the new policy, insisting that “Emails by their nature are not records and do not need to be saved.”
“In many cases, emails are not records,” David said. “If I sent an email to someone to go to lunch, that is not considered a record. If I sent an email with an attachment of a state contract, that could be a record. And that has been the law in New York state for years.”
Despite the fact that the governor’s summit was called to discuss a more uniform email retention policy, the meeting was essentially boycotted by a long list of politicians. Many pols were upset that Cuomo used the tactic of criticizing the state legislature for its own longstanding exemptions for their own emails, a rule that shields their communications from Freedom of Information Act requests.
Mike Murphy, spokesman for the Senate Democrats, criticized the meeting and noted that the governor could have changed his email policy whenever he wanted without calling a showy “public relations stunt” summit meant to embarrass legislators.
State Democrats further claimed that they never delete emails, anyway, so the governor’s policy is meaningless to them.
Transparency advocates are unhappy with both the old policy and the new one. Government watchdog groups have called for the governor to retain email records for at least seven years.
“I think the policy is indefensible. I think the way the administration has behaved is a huge mistake and what had been promised to be the most transparent government in history has not turned out that way, at least so far,” said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Cuomo bears much of the responsibility for the policy of automatic mass deletions of emails. While the policy was initially instituted by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, it was Cuomo who expanded the deletion policy to cover most state agencies despite that many had other polices before he came to Albany.
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