Blog note, Featured, Gold Dome, Open Records, Original Report

The Case of the Missing Emails

I don’t know about you, but I get a minimum of 50 emails a day. I don’t have to send anything out, I don’t have to let anyone know if I’m at work or not, I’m going to get at least 50 emails a day: News alerts, calendar alerts, email newsletters, and then of course, people generating new messages to me.

Which is why I found it so odd, when recently I used the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) to request emails for a couple of government officials, and they told me they had nothing. I was asking for inbound emails, or outgoing emails, and in both cases – ZIP.

icon_blog_noteI CORA-requested all emails for Governor Hickenlooper’s Chief of Staff, Roxane White, for the days of March 28 and 31. I made that request on April 1. “There are no public records responsive to your request.”

Is Ms. White rigorously deleting her inbox, sent box, and trash? And if so, is there any rule or statute that says she shouldn’t?

Well, there’s certainly no statute that mandates how long documents – especially emails – should be kept.

But we learned this recently about email retention policies for state employees under the Governor’s control.

Attorney Geoff Blue, attempting to locate emails for a CORA request for the Independence Institute ran into the same problem I’m having, namely, emails that aren’t there. Kathryn Starnella, with the Attorney General’s office, told Blue:

“As I noted in my e-mail from last Thursday, neither the current nor the previous policies require employees to retain their business-related e-mails for any particular period of time.”

Blue queried back, “Ok, so I can be very clear. The Governor’s office’s position is that its employees have no obligation to retain any email for any length of time. Correct?”

Starnella delivered the final verdict, “The Governor’s Office’s document and e-mail retention policy speaks for itself.”

Delete away!

To issue number two, after the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) investigated whether or not one of their employees, Jo Donlin, had possibly been bullied by Senator Mark Udall’s office over health care policy cancellation figures, I asked for several days-worth of emails for Donlin, and the other employees involved in carrying out the investigation.

Important to remember, Donlin was central to the investigation which took place January 13, according to the Denver Post.

In providing the records I asked for, there were no emails for Donlin for January 10-14. None at all. The others (DORA Director Barbara Kelley, Deputy Director Michelle Pedersen, and DORA lobbyist John Cevette) all had multiple emails, both incoming and outgoing. There were none for Donlin.

DORA communications officer Sue Cobb told us, “The e-mails that were no longer in Ms. Donlin’s mailbox, including the trash folder, were no longer accessible and were therefore not within the custody or control of DORA and could not be recovered.  DORA is not aware of any other person that had custody or control of deleted e-mails that were responsive to your request.”

I might try to suppress my cynicism of what’s going on here, if it weren’t for the recent report by John Ferugia of KMGH Ch-7, showing officials in the Poudre School District systematically destroyed emails they knew were of a sensitive nature to a particular topic. Those government officials destroyed the emails with the specific fear in mind that they could one day be requested by open records, and they even at one point discussed creating code names so that certain emails would not be found by searching keywords.

I might further try to suppress my cynicism if it weren’t for the fact that the Denver Post recently reported that Hickenlooper’s office stalled on providing records on an embarrassing story about employee hiring practices costing the state millions.

Or I might try one more time to suppress my cynicism if it weren’t for Complete Colorado’s reporting by Michael Sandoval showing members of the Hickenlooper administration doing government work on personal emails.

I guess for now I’ll be cynical.

Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown did not return our email requesting comment.

(FEAST OR FAMINE postscript:  For the record, I’ve also got a request for emails related to some of the administration’s work on health care issues.  The legal team estimates about 5800 pages of emails, and at a cost of $.25 cents a page, that’s $1450 in photocopy costs, even though I could most definitely prove the core photocopying costs do not exceed a dime per page.  The difference between their charges and the cost I can prove is $1450 to $580.)

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