Starting Friday, the Department of Regulatory Agencies’ 600 employees will see their emails older than 60 days deleted.
The Denver Post reports that employees are to preserve correspondence about litigation or current open records requests.
DORA spokesperson Jillian Sarmo told The Post that the purpose of the purge is to “allow the department to increase responsiveness to requests for information.”
States — and administrative departments within those states — have a variety of regulations for deleting correspondence and other records.
The archiving company Intradyn found that most state laws require email retention between three and seven years, with some requiring permanent retention.
“Consumers and business owners should be concerned about a regulatory agency deleting public records,” said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, on Tuesday. “Consider that the General Assembly makes laws four months out of the year. Executive and regulatory agencies pick winners and losers all year long, with an ever-growing volume of rules that dwarfs the impact the General Assembly has.”
Colorado sets retention schedules for state agencies, municipalities, counties, school districts and special districts.
The state’s records management manual classifies some — but not all — emails as correspondence to be retained. Correspondence with “enduring long-term value” that touches on legal, policy or historical decisions receives indefinite retention.
“Routine operating documentation” is retained for two years, while records of “transitory value” may be deleted after they are read.
However, the law allows agencies to prescribe other requirements for retention, and departments can have their own deviations from the policy. Additionally, the responsibility for notifying the state archives about changes to retention schedules falls on the departments.
For example, the Secretary of State's Office failed to keep all billing records tied to the legal fees it paid related to an ethics complaint filed against then-Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
The complaint was filed in 2012 over Gessler's alleged use of state funds for partisan purposes, as well as the alleged cleaning out of a petty cash fund in his office without providing receipts. The Secretary of State's Office paid Gessler's legal bills all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but could not provide copies of those bills prior to July 1, 2014, claiming in 2018 they had only to retain records for the current year and the previous two years.
In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity graded Colorado a D+ on transparency, ranking the state only above 14 others in providing the public access to information.
DORA has previously been the subject of controversial unearthed emails.
On Jan. 9, 2014, the Denver Post reported on a series of emails between Jo Donlin, the director of external affairs for DORA's Division of Insurance, DOI staff and and the staff of U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who lost his re-election bid to Sen. Cory Gardner in the November 2014 election.
The issue was that Donlin had said 250,000 Coloradans were losing their insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Udall's office pushed back.
Donlin told the DOI staff in a Nov. 14, 2013 internal email that “Sen. Udall says our numbers were wrong. They are not wrong. Cancellation notices affected 249,199 people. They want to trash our numbers. I’m holding strong while we get more details. Many have already done early renewals. Regardless, they received cancellation notices.”
Udall claimed those numbers were inaccurate, that the people who received those notices actually had been offered insurance and hence were not going to go without.
Republicans pounced on the issue, claiming Udall and his staff were bullying Donlin, who, a month later, was transferred to another department.
While the emails surfaced shortly before 60 days had elapsed, the exchange between offices may have disappeared with a more restrictive retention schedule.
State Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, said that he is working with the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition and other groups to draft a more expansive records retention law. He described his own experience requesting emails from the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, only to be told that an official had recently left and his emails were deleted.
"They deleted everything," Cooke said. "How can you do that within a day or two of somebody leaving, especially at that high-level position? That's what got me upset about it."