Vikki Vargas, Kevin Dahlgren
When a Planning Department official ordered employees to delete old emails and hard-copy correspondence, did that violate state law? Employees think so, and an investigation has been launched.
In Anaheim’s Planning Department, business licenses and permits sit on shelves for at least two years and e-mails are archived on computers.
But last week, every staff member in the city’s planning department received a memo asking them to get rid of some of the paperwork, regardless of how long it had been there.
The memo said that there have been so many public record requests that some documents, when taken out of context, may “damage our credibility.”
The e-mail asked that drafts and notes about meetings be “purged.”
Voice of OC reporter Adam Almahrek said the e-mail was sent one day after he asked for public records about council members. The non-profit news agency, which is partially funded by the county’s employee union, used some of those public records to write a story about Councilwoman Kris Murray’s efforts to pressure the fire department to get a permit for her company’s BBQ.
While Murray refused to be interviewed for the story, she wrote an e-mail that said she was asking for information, not assistance.
City officials said state law mandates they get rid of certain documents every few years and that the article that ran in the Voice of OC did not include all of the contents of the e-mail the news agency received under the Public Records Act.
“I was under no undue pressure by Councilwoman Kris Murray. In her email, she was asking a question about the permitting process to place a tent on a parking garage for her company's party,” said Anaheim Fire Chief Randy Bruegman.
“I get requests all the time from people to help facilitate the permitting process. In this case, it was an issue of miscommunication between the tent rental company and the fire department,” he added.
Elmahrek said it’s great that city employee be able to purge certain records every two years. However, he said “It’s not correct that they do a house cleaning by order of a city official.”
Still, city hall employees are left wondering whether they should hit the delete button or not.
“First of all, they’re being asked to destroy documents and they don’t want to be cited for insubordination,” said Brian Beger, president of the Anaheim Municipal Employees Association. “At the same time, they want to make sure that they’re not going to be caught up in any criminal misdoing.”
Late Thursday, Mayor Tom Tait said the e-mails were confusing and misleading and vowed that public records will only be purged in accordance with state law.