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Mayor may have violated state public record laws

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  1. Freedom of Information
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino was ordered to turn over the computer and software of a senior aide after his…

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino was ordered to turn over the computer and software of a senior aide after his office provided only 18 e-mail messages from the aide over a six-month period in response to a request from the Boston Globe, the newspaper reported.

The deletions were discovered when two mayoral challengers independently produced hundreds of e-mail messages sent or received by aide Michael Kineavy from Oct. 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009. Boston must now hire an independent computer forensics specialist to recover the messages.

The city is arguing that the deletions were an online glitch and that the law is unclear as to whether it was required to provide them to the Globe. During a press conference, City Corporation Counsel Bill Sinnott said that “there is an ambiguity in the law” concerning what defines public e-mail and that the secretary of state has “conceded to us there is a real absence of guidance,” the Boston Herald reported.

A 2003 bulletin from the state supervisor of public records defines e-mail messages as a public records subject to the same retention schedules as paper records. According to the Massachusetts Public Records Division, the state has not yet adopted formal standards for the storage, retrieval and maintenance of long-term electronic records. However, state public records law requires municipal employees to save electronic correspondence for at least two years, even if the contents are of “no informational or evidential value.’’

Sinnott told the Herald that city employees are trained to save e-mail messages in accordance with the law but that Kineavy was deleting his messages with the belief that they were backed up by city servers.