Despite NCTD board vote, strong public response for open government

Last Wednesday, inewsource solicited signatures on a petition urging the North County Transit District not to change its policy that dictates how long the district keeps internal emails.

The petition lit up the Twittersphere, and we received supportive emails and comments from politicians, journalists and the general public over the weekend. All in all, we had 125 signatures in about 24 hours.

This was the first time inewsource embarked on such a movement. Although the transit district changed the policy in spite of the petitions, the impressive response encourages us to replicate the effort in the name of open and accessible government.

The new policy means that NCTD will delete emails considered not to be “district records” after only 60 days — down from two years. This will include “preliminary drafts, notes and memorandums.” It will be up to employees to decide what is and what is not a “district record.”

Emails, which often are important documentation of official public business, are mentioned specifically in the California Public Records Act, which guarantees public access to documents that provide a window into the workings of government.

NCTD has said different things at different times concerning the reasoning behind the move to change its records retention policy. At first, it was to save digital storage space — which experts say is a “non-issue” in this age of cheaper and cheaper storage.

At last Thursday’s meeting, NCTD’s Executive Director Matthew Tucker presented the district’s board with the “everyone else is doing it” line of reasoning for approving the proposal. Tucker made it a point that other agencies, such as the Metropolitan Transit System and the San Diego Association of Governments, have similar policies. A few board members said the email retention policy for their respective cities is as short as 30 days.

The district’s lawyer told the board that as of 12:30 p.m., NCTD had received 55 emails in opposition to the policy. That number wound up being 125 by Friday night.

There was no public comment on the issue, but Ed Gallo, the board member who represents the city of Escondido, remarked, “Fifty-five emails and no one wants to talk?”

Chairman Bill Horn replied, “Well, they have to show up.”

Board member Rebecca Jones from the city of San Marcos said she felt the emailed petitions were based on “miscommunication” — that those who signed didn’t fully understand the intended changes in policy.

The board voted unanimously to approve the change.

As an investigative journalism nonprofit, inewsource is committed to producing impartial, nonpolitical stories. We cross the line to advocate when it comes to fighting for open and accountable government. Thank you to those who joined in that mission last week.

We'll let you know when big things happen.

About Brad Racino

Brad Racino is a reporter, producer and editor at inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, email bradracino@inewsource.org or call (619) 594-3569.