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Anaheim mayor: Order to delete files, emails was a 'mistake'

January 6, 2012 |  9:30 am

Tom taitThe mayor of Anaheim said it was a “mistake” for planning officials to order employees to purge files and emails from their computers that might be unflattering to city leaders and local developers.

The warnings were sent to department staff last week, shortly after the online publication Voice of OC filed a Public Records Act request for communications between council members and the planning department.

Employees were warned that if they did not comply with the order, they could be punished.

The requests prompted union leaders in the resort city to complain that employees were being asked to break the law or participate in a coverup.

The Anaheim city attorney's office, which investigated whether the request was illegal, said Thursday that the emails did not violate state law.

But Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., said the emails "instruct employees to destroy certain public records and discusses the likelihood that certain public records could be embarrassing to public officials."

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait called the emails "confusing and misleading."

"Unfortunately, these emails within the Planning Department and the manner in which they were articulated were a mistake," the mayor said. "We are taking corrective action to assure this does not happen again."

In an email dated Dec. 27, Sandra Sagert, who heads the city's code enforcement program, wrote that "a not so nice comment about a popular property owner" appeared in an email that was turned over in a public records request.

"As you can imagine," the email read, "the city manager was not happy. There will be disciplinary action for anyone violating this administrative regulation." 

The next day, Hannah Jones, an administrative analyst in the planning department, sent employees an email noting the city has been getting public records requests almost daily and that when "old or unnecessary documents turn up," they can "very easy (sic) portray the actions of city staff, applicants, contractors and decision makers out of context and damage our credibility."

Jones warned that supervisors would be periodically checking up on employees and those who failed to delete old messages and files would face disciplinary action.

Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, an open government group, said the emails appeared to prod employees to break the law. He said the state Government Code requires cities to retain records for at least two years and that some must be retained indefinitely.

The Jones memo was first revealed by Voice of OC, a small nonprofit news website that was launched 20 months ago. 

Orange County Assistant Dist. Atty. Michael Lubinski, head of the special prosecutions unit, said the employees union forwarded him Jones' email. "Nothing popped out as being clearly criminal by that memo," he said.

"But that doesn't mean there wasn't intent to destroy documents that shouldn't be destroyed."


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-- Jeff Gottlieb

Photo: Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait. Credit:  Kari Rene Hall /Los Angeles Times