SEPTEMBER 16, 2009
Officials in a major U.S. city continue destroying public records even though a judge ordered them to preserve the files last year because deleting them violates state law.
The mayor of Boston and his administration were warned by a state judge in November that city employees were breaking state public records laws by deleting electronic mail and ordered them to halt the practice. Massachusetts public records law requires municipal employees to save electronic correspondence for at least two years, even if the contents appear to have no informational or evidential value.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino keeps disregarding the law as well as the judge’s order, however. A local newspaper reports that city employees, including the mayor’s closest aide, continue deleting files that must be preserved. The problem of records destruction at City Hall is widespread and extends well beyond the mayor’s top aide, according to the report.
The paper had sought the files through a public records request over the summer as it investigated a story involving the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The city agency had been sued by an advocacy group for failing to respond to public records requests for documents pertaining to the sale of a city parcel when the media became interested.
In response to that lawsuit, a Superior Court Judge (Ralph Gants) determined that city employees had been permitted to destroy electronic mail without keeping hard copies or backups. Thus, the Boston Redevelopment Authority “failed to comply with its obligation” in accordance with state law, the judge said in November.
Nearly a year later the illegal practice continues without consequences. The mayor’s chief of policy planning admits he deletes e-mails every day to “tidy up” his inbox. The mayor evidently thinks his top assistant is dedicated and diligent in cleaning out his inbox, even if it violates state law.
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