Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Binge and Purge Governor

Wisconsin man puts stop to Perry's e-mail trashing

Information requests stop governor's office from practice of throwing away e-mails weekly.

November 11, 2007

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

After learning that Gov. Rick Perry has his staff destroy e-mail records after seven days, a political activist decided last week to do what he can to stop the practice.

John Washburn, a Milwaukee-based software consultant, programmed his computer to automatically send out two requests a week for all government e-mail generated by Perry staffers. Under state law, records aren't supposed to be destroyed once somebody has asked for them.

"I've kind of put a stick in the spokes of the wheel," Washburn said.

"The whole point of public records is to make those ongoing transactions and government policy decisions more transparent to the public. If they're gone, by definition, that's about as opaque as it gets," he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody said the governor's office will comply with Washburn's request, which prompted officials to deactivate the automatic destruction of the records.

Moody told The Associated Press on Saturday that Perry didn't initiate the e-mail policy, which was also in place under Perry's predecessor as governor, George W. Bush.

Policies on managing e-mail vary from agency to agency in Texas. All agencies and elected officials are required by state law to ensure that important e-mails, like any other records, are saved for certain periods of time, in some cases permanently.

Similar rules apply to cities, counties, school districts, water districts and other units of local government. Options for retaining e-mails include printing them, placing them in computer folders that are not automatically deleted and storing them on a removable disk.

But the day-to-day decisions on what to save fall to each user, and compliance is difficult to assess. State agencies and local governments say it would be impractical and expensive to leave all messages in the system indefinitely.

Earlier this year, Perry's office said the governor himself has no state computer or state e-mail account, doing all communication about state business verbally."That's the way (Perry) prefers it," spokesman Robert Black said in February. "He prefers to talk things through, with ideas going back and forth. That's how he communicates better."

Moody said Friday that as a result of Washburn's requests, the governor's office is "holding all e-mail correspondence and not wiping clean the server after seven days." She said it's typically up to each employee of the governor's office to set aside and save e-mails that they believe should be preserved as public records. Otherwise, they're automatically purged.

"We believe our staff is acting lawfully and in good faith," said Moody, who added that Perry's office receives a high volume of e-mail and doesn't have the server space to keep them forever.
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