Buffalo Grove delays vote on destroying e-mails

Updated 12/20/2010 10:42 PM

Buffalo Grove trustees Monday held off voting on an ordinance that would define which e-mail records the village may destroy.

The board deferred the matter until one of the January meetings, while Village Attorney William Raysa finds answers to some questions that had been raised.


The decision came hours after the Better Government Association registered its objections to the ordinance.

The ordinance, which codifies an existing policy, allows the village to destroy "nonrecord" personal e-mails and e-mails that do not "set policy, establish guidelines or procedures, certify a transaction, or become a receipt."

Also eligible for destruction are e-mails between family and friends that are not related to work.

Individual employees may permanently delete personal and "nonrecord" e-mails.

Emily Miller, policy and government affairs coordinator for the BGA, said she spoke earlier Monday with Deputy Village Manager Ghida Neukirch.

Miller said the proposed ordinance restricts access to public information currently accessible under the Freedom of Information Act.

She said it is the BGA's position that it would violate the Freedom of Information Act.

"Electronic communications conducted on public time and with public resources are records of public activity," Miller argued. "Public records are accessible under FOIA." One problem with the ordinance, she pointed out, is that an individual employee may at any time permanently delete an e-mail.

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"This isn't somebody that has had the FOIA officer training that is making the decision," she said.

Miller also warned that the ordinance would be challenged in court.

But Neukirch said that the ordinance is faithful to the state's local records act.

Neukirch said the village is basically formalizing its procedures.

She said the policy has been discussed for many months.

"It just formalizes the procedures that we had," she said. "It certainly does not supersede by any means the local records act or the Freedom of Information Act," she added.

"It's not a matter of destroying an e-mail. It's really no different than (destroying) the (nonelectronic) mail that I get. If I get a piece of junk mail, I'm going to recycle the paper. But if I get a complaint from a resident, or (something) business related, whether it is an e-mail or whether it is a hard copy document, I'm going to follow up on it and hold on to it.


"We're not talking about destroying ordinances. We're talking about e-mails."

If, for example, she gets a personal e-mail from her husband, under the policy there would be no concern with it being deleted.

She said there is a huge price tag for retaining every single e-mail.

And, she said, it is unnecessary.

As for potential court action, she said, "If that's the case, they're going to do what they need to do." She said the policy has been reviewed by legal counsel and it is consistent with Illinois law.

Village Manager Dane Bragg said FOIA covers the disclosure of documents, whereas the local records act covers the retention of documents, Bragg said. "So they're really two separate areas."

Bragg said the village goes through a process with a local records commission, whereby the village submits a record retention plan that the commission approves.

"As long as we follow that policy, we're in compliance with the local records act," Bragg said.

He added that most of what the village receives in e-mail is junk mail.

But Miller countered that while the public records act says that nonrecords can be destroyed at any time, "That doesn't mean they should be able to define any record to be a nonrecord and then destroy it."