This is the Executive Summary, Conclusion, Findings and Recommendations only. For the entire report go to : Grand Jury 2014 -2015 Report
The Grand Jury initiated an investigation based on a citizen’s complaint that the city of Fremont systematically destroys all city emails after a 30-day period, alleging a violation of California law. The complaint also alleged that the city’s administrative regulations define all emails as “preliminary drafts,” thus excluding them from disclosure under the California Public Records Act. The Grand Jury examined California state statutes and Fremont policies governing the retention and purging of public documents, and spoke to advocates on both sides of the issue concerning the retention of emails. The Grand Jury is deeply concerned with Fremont’s loose interpretation of California government transparency and retention statutes and the city’s apparent intentional efforts to exclude the public from accessing city emails.
Government agencies rely heavily on the use of email communications to transact the public’s business. The Grand Jury believes all government agencies should be open and transparent. Emails must therefore be retained as public records and must be accessible for public review when warranted.
The city of Fremont purges most email records after 30 days, depriving citizens access to vital information about how and why public policy, regulations, and laws are formulated.
Given the growth and evolution of the internet and computer technology in the past 20 years, rules and regulations classifying emails as preliminary drafts are both antiquated and inadequate. The city of Fremont must overhaul its email retention/purge policy, thereby responding to the need for public transparency. The Grand Jury also believes the state of California could resolve this matter by integrating its retention statute into the Public Records Act. The absence of uniform guidelines means government emails will continue to be treated inconsistently across jurisdictions.
Destroying emails prematurely not only prevents public access to vital information, but also impedes investigations of wrongdoing. For example, the PG&E pipeline explosion in San Bruno was mired in scandal as a result of emails being uncovered between PG&E staff and the state Public Utilities Commission. The inappropriate conduct of public officials involved in this case would not have become known had it not been for the retention of emails that enabled the public to uncover wrongdoing and demand accountability.
Two other examples are found within this 2014-2015 Grand Jury report. These examples, like the PG&E case, further illustrate that access to email communications is essential to ensure that government business is conducted in an ethical manner. Emails were often key to determining whether there was misconduct by government agencies.
The Grand Jury concludes that the city of Fremont’s interpretation of California statutes cited in this report is contrary to the spirit of open and transparent government and must be changed.
Finding 15-22: The city of Fremont’s classification of emails as preliminary drafts deprives the public of key opportunities to oversee government operations.
Finding 15-23: The city of Fremont’s classification of emails as records not kept in the regular course of business, unless specifically saved, deprives the public of important opportunities to monitor government.
The city of Fremont must change its email retention policy to require that emails are stored and retained for at least two years.
The city of Fremont must change its email retention policy so that no emails are classified as preliminary drafts, but rather that all such emails are retained in the regular course of business and subject to the Public Records Act.