Pierce County will retain employee e-mails for at least six years under a new policy announced today.
County Executive Pat McCarthy said the move makes information contained in county e-mails more accessible to the public.
“I ran (for executive) on open and transparent government,” McCarthy said. “This policy is in keeping with a philosophy of making sure we provide access to information for citizens.”
State law provides public access to most government records. As governments rely more on e-mail, databases and other electronic records, access to those records has become a big issue among open government advocates.
Under a previous policy established in 1999, county e-mails were automatically purged from the county’s computer system 14 days after employees deleted them from their in-box. To save them permanently, employees had to print and file them away.
Under the new policy, the county will electronically store most e-mail messages and attachments for at least six years. After that, they’re purged.
Some messages – like spam and draft e-mails that were never sent – will not be archived. Others will be retained for more than six years.
The county has new archiving software that will make the records easier to search as well as store.
Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, praised the county’s new policy in a statement issued by the executive’s office. He called it “an excellent example for other agencies to follow.”
The nonpartisan coalition last week gave McCarthy its Key Award, which recognizes notable efforts to promote open government.
McCarthy said she believes the new e-mail directive is “one of the strongest open-government policies in the state.” King County retains some e-mails for two years. Seattle automatically deletes e-mails after 45 days unless they are archived by an employee.
McCarthy said the new e-mail policy is one of a series of measures the county has undertaken to improve public access to information. Other examples include making archived County Council meetings, labor contracts and salary schedules available online.