TV-6: Investigates: Government E-mail Retention Policies - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

TV-6: Investigates: Government E-mail Retention Policies


Regulating government records, there are rules defining when governments can destroy records they have accumulated. However, Iowa is one state that does not tell cities or counties how to manage their files.

Scott County is putting a new policy in place, allowing e-mails to be deleted permanently.

"We've never had a policy, we kept every email since almost day one and we're talking about the early 90's, every incoming and outgoing email has been kept," says County Supervisor Bill Cusack.

He says a library of archived email sounds better than it actually is. It's not organized in any particular fashion and he says county taxpayers have bought hundreds of thousands of dollars in computer equipment to hold the digital records over the years. Now the county will begin getting rid of emails more than three years old.

"The cities and the state I know, retain their emails for far less time than we do, up to this point we've just kept them forever," says Cusack.

He says the county will review archived email to determine if it has value. Spam and emails about meeting dates can be dumped. County department heads will determine if everything else has value.

"We have faith in our staff that they will choose, to keep what is important," says Cusack.

Deleting e-mail sounds foreign to transparent government, but governments get rid of old records all the time. In Illinois, as long as an agency has gotten state approval it can follow set schedules for purging records. Iowa also maintains schedules for certain documents, but it leaves many of those decisions to the counties and cities themselves.

"Industry wide normally, emails are kept one to three years, we're going to keep them three years, anything by statute that has to be kept longer, seven years or in perpetuity, of course we will," says Cusack.

Both the Iowa League of Cities and Iowa Association of Counties have developed guidelines for good records management.

The League of Cities recommends emails be kept as long as administratively necessary, although it cautions some have a long term value to them.

Scott County's new policy takes effect on January second.

The policy was approved unanimously by the board.