Alameda County grand jury critiques city of Berkeley’s email practices

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The Alameda County grand jury released its final report Tuesday recommending that several cities, including Berkeley, refine their email practices in order to uphold transparency.

In its report, the jury cited the city of Berkeley for not keeping emails within the two-year retention requirement put in place by the California Retention Statute. Currently, the city automatically deletes all emails after 90 days, unless employees save or print them.

According to Rob Warren, legal adviser for the grand jury, the cities specifically cited within the report are required to respond to the jury’s criticisms within 60 or 90 days of the report’s publication. Since the jury did not make any direct recommendations to the city of Berkeley, however, it is not required to respond.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said in an email that the city of Berkeley commonly discloses emails according to public records requests, but added that because the city of Berkeley typically receives thousands of emails per day, rigorously upholding the Public Records Act would potentially have financial consequences.

“To undergo this type of review process for every email sent, received, cc’d for up to two years or otherwise copied digitally is an expense that would ultimately be borne by taxpayers,” Chakko said in an email. “It’s an open question whether that’s a smart use of limited funds.”

Approximately one year ago, the grand jury decided to further investigate the email practices of all 14 cities within Alameda County after receiving several complaints about one city in particular. As part of this investigation, the grand jury looked into the matter by sending surveys to each city manager to outline how they handled their electronic documents.

After the grand jury received these surveys, they looked for cities which did not uphold the practices of the California Retention Statute. In particular, the jury wanted to see which cities provided the most access to public records for citizens through their online transparency.

According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, not automatically deleting emails sent to the city of Berkeley would increase transparency. Additionally, Worthington said he was concerned that some city employees use private email servers to discuss city matters instead of their official email accounts.

The city council will be discussing the city’s email practices July 19 in response to the grand jury’s report, according to Worthington.

“It’s more work for us to be transparent, but I believe transparency is worth the work,” Worthington said.

Contact Kailey Martinez-Ramage at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kmartinezramage.

A previous version of this article may have implied that the city of Berkeley is required to respond to the grand jury’s report. In fact, because the jury did not make any direct recommendations to the city of Berkeley, it is not required to respond.