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Mayor Faulconer Postpones San Diego’s Email Deletion Policy

Evening Edition

Aired 3/4/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Cory Briggs, Attorney for San Diegans for Open Government

Ben Katz, Technology entrepreneur and political director for Open San Diego

The mayor's office declined to send a spokesperson to discuss the email policy.


On his first full day in office, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer postponed a newly announced policy of deleting all city emails older than a year. Former interim Mayor Todd Gloria said last week that the city would begin deleting year-old emails on March 28 as a cost-saving measure.

Gloria's announcement immediately caused outcry among journalists and open government advocates. That's because emails keep a record of what city officials and staff are doing, and by law those records are meant to be public.

But Faulconer, who took office officially Monday, quickly reversed the plan. His communications director Matt Awbrey announced on Twitter that Faulconer is putting the email deletion policy on hold "pending further review."

"All City emails will continue to be stored," he wrote.

Awbrey told KPBS a timeline has not yet been set for reviewing the new policy, and that emails will be stored until the review is finished.

Gloria's spokeswoman Katie Keach said the email deletion policy was drafted because the city hasn't allocated the $400,000 to $500,000 it would cost to continue archiving city emails.

While the email deletion policy was announced just a few days before Gloria handed over the mayor's office to Faulconer, Gloria had known about the archiving program for a while.

Keach said in an email that Jeff Leveroni, the city's former director of IT, raised the issue "early in the Interim Mayor's tenure." Leveroni no longer works for the city.

Between 2007 and 2009, the city transitioned to using a new email archive system called Nearpoint, Keach said. A 2008 memo from then-Mayor Jerry Sanders says that starting Dec. 22, 2008, all city emails older than 90 days will automatically be deleted, but will still be stored in Nearpoint.

Keach said the problem is not that the city is reaching the end of its allotted space for archived emails in Nearpoint, but that Nearpoint "is no longer supported by HP."

Because of this, she said, the city's IT department began looking for other solutions.

"Department of IT looked at utilizing HP's new email archive product called Autonomy," Keach wrote. "We also looked at an archive system by Symantec. Based on the City's current space allocation, these email achieve systems range in cost between $400,000 and $500,000 (licensing)."

Awbrey said the city will continue to use Nearpoint while the policy is reviewed.

But Ben Katz and Jed Sundwall, leaders of the advocacy group Open San Diego, say that price sounds too high. They wrote an open letter to Faulconer asking him to explore other options.

Katz said he surveyed several IT professionals who work outside the city, and none estimated an email archiving system would cost as much as $500,000. Katz said the cost of storing data drops regularly, and he thinks the city could be using old numbers.

"This is something we've been seeing with government IT procurement around the country, is that they're really bad at it," he said. "They use the same basic method for doing IT procurement as any other procurement. If you look at the cost of paving a road, it's probably about the same cost today as it was 10 years ago. But IT doesn't work that way at all. The cost of hard drive storage drops in half every 14 months. So you really can't go and say, 'hey we can do what we did five years ago and can we do that again for the same price?'"

However, the city might have unique security or legal needs that most businesses don't have to consider.

Keach said the city is in the process of transitioning to Microsoft Office365 Cloud, a new email system hosted by Microsoft.

This story has been updated to clarify Mayor Kevin Faulconer's actions on the email retention policy.

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | March 4, 2014 at 7:25 a.m. ― 3 years ago

hide old evidence ?

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | March 4, 2014 at 10:24 a.m. ― 3 years ago

So what is a reasonable duration for archiving e-mail? 1yr? 3yr?
Is the Open San Diego group willing to cover the cost of extended storage? If it is paid for by donation, why not keep it?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 4, 2014 at 11:19 a.m. ― 3 years ago

So when something along the lines of Chris Christie's "bridgegate" scandal happens locally (yeah, yeah, I know - WHAT!? A scandal in San Diego!? Never!! :-O ), all the corrupt hacks will have this to hide under.

May, 2016, hypothetical scenario
San Diego, CA

KPBS: {::Reporter holding microphone to the mayor::} Mayor Faulconner, this recent scandal involving you, the UT and the new Chargers stadium has just come to light and the public wants to know what happened, why won't you release the complete set of unredacted electronic corresponce that took place between you, Chargers leadership, the developer, and Doug Manchester during the period in question?

Mayor Faulconner: {::wide smile, in sharp looking suit, appearing very realxed::} Well you know I would LOVE nothing more than to release these emails because I have NOTHING to hide my good citizens, but you see, we have this CITY POLICY where all emails are deleted after exactly one year and the emails from this time period are 1 year 1 month old so they no longer exist. {::another wide smile and a tug adjustment of silk tie::}. Now pardon me, I'm late for my meeting with John Lynch. {::exist smug politican from media cameras::}

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | March 4, 2014 at 11:27 a.m. ― 3 years ago

Are you suggesting that e-mail be archived until the current mayor leaves office?

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Avatar for user 'M_atty'

M_atty | March 4, 2014 at 11:39 a.m. ― 3 years ago

Speaking as a system administrator, licensing is where the costs accumulate, not storage. It is an upfront and recurring cost. You can calculate what it costs per gigabyte to keep and archive data. It's not cheap.

Also, keep in mind that a data retention policy is a double-edged sword. If there's an e-mail that could exonerate someone, it will be aged and culled along with the damning evidence.

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Avatar for user 'philosopher3000'

philosopher3000 | March 4, 2014 at 12:40 p.m. ― 3 years ago

What is KPBS DOING? Don't you know that by exposing these email deletion policies they are stirring up PUBLIC OPINION against the city deleting all this evidence!!!

Doesn't KPBS know that these email, if exposed, will finger the Jacobs family's influence in city politics? Don't you have any institutional memory? Just last year KPBS worked with iNewsSource and accepted $million from the Jacobs Family to help 'investigate' the former Mayor. What do you think will happen when you expose all the private emails between the City Attorney and the Interim Mayor and those who work for the Jacobs family?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 4, 2014 at 1:28 p.m. ― 3 years ago

Benz, I was trying to research what other cities do but wasn't having much luck. From the scant things I could find, it looks like LA bases retention times depending on what the emails are.

Certainly a one-size fits all approach can't be good here.

There should be policies in place that evaluate what types of emails should and shouldn't be deleted within a year.

There should also be a policy that before ANY city emails are delelted, they are released to the public so the media and any interested citizens can have - say a 30-day period- to go through them and copy any they think are important before the deletion occurs.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | March 4, 2014 at 8:43 p.m. ― 3 years ago

OK, I think that sounds pretty reasonable. There would be exceptions to public release though, right? Bid proposals containing business sensitive information? Electronically submitted forms with personal financial or medical information? Discussion of city cases sealed by the courts? It seems to me there should be SOME secrets not released to the general public.

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Avatar for user 'sddelmar778'

sddelmar778 | March 5, 2014 at 3:56 p.m. ― 3 years ago

I can't agree with Ben Katz and Jed Sundwall.
First, yes, storage costs get lower as time goes by. But you want to know what gets larger as time goes by? The data that you are storing. Emails (and their attachments) keep getting larger. So while maybe the costs go down a little, it's not as much as people think. And the costs have to do more with the licenses and support than the storage.

Secondly, San Diego, like ALL companies and governments, SHOULD have an email retention (and disposal) policy. Example: Keep emails for a year, then delete. Exception: if a person is part of active litigation, forget the policy / keep that person's email. Done.

It's very stupid to think that every single email should be saved 'in case the public needs it'. Would you also say that every piece of paper should be kept forever? No.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 5, 2014 at 4:55 p.m. ― 3 years ago

Benz - emails would need to be redacted for any personal/sensitive information like accounts numbers, etc. before being released.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | March 5, 2014 at 7:38 p.m. ― 3 years ago

OK, I can accept that. Do you think the process could be automated or would it require a manual redaction? If the later I would want to see a cost-benefit analysis before agreeing that the specific implementation were reasonable, but I believe you have the principle correct.

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