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Baltimore's policy of deleting emails after 3 months scrutinized

Baltimore officials are studying record-retention policies in city government, and considering changes.

City Solicitor George Nilson said a work group is studying a 12-year-old policy of purging deleted emails from the city's system after 90 days.

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"The group had been meeting and deliberating for a while," Nilson said. "They are looking at policies that exist in other jurisdictions. They are looking at issues that have arisen since we adopted the policy. They are looking at other document-retention policies as well.

"We keep lots of documents for a long, long time."

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The city's policy has been a source of frustration for some journalists and citizens who are unable to gain access to emails by city officials that have been deleted.

South Baltimore resident David Bender, for instance, has been trying to get emails from his city councilman, Eric T. Costello, for months.

The University of Maryland Medical Center dosimetrist, a critic of Costello, was surprised to learn that city policy calls for the destruction of all electronic communications older than 90 days by local elected officials if the officials have deleted those emails from their accounts.

Through three mayoral administrations, city officials have adhered to a 2004 internet policy that allowed public officials to destroy electronic communications after three months instead of saving them for inspection by members of the public, journalists and historians. Elected officials can keep their emails if they choose not to delete them.

"Allowing elected officials to delete electronic communications after 90 days creates government opacity and seems to fly in the face of transparent leadership," Bender said. "I'm incredulous that an organization of this size would permit any communications to be destroyed by elected officials."

Nilson said it was unclear when the work group would finish its review.

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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