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Utah governor's office agrees to cease e-mail message deletions

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Utah governor’s office agrees to cease e-mail message deletions

  • In an agreement with a group of media organizations, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, the newly confirmed administrator of the EPA, says his office will begin keeping all policy-related e-mail messages.

Nov. 4, 2003 — On the same day the U.S. Senate confirmed him to be the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt reached agreement with a group of media organizations that requires the governor’s office to stop deleting policy-related e-mail messages.

In return, The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, KTVX-TV and Clear Channel Communications dropped their open records lawsuit against Leavitt and the governor’s office of Utah.

“Prior to this resolution, there was no rhyme or reason pertaining to how the governor’s office was doing business,” Michael O’Brien, an attorney for the media groups, said. “That now changes.”

Signed on Oct. 28, the agreement requires the governor and his staff to treat every e-mail message they send and receive as a public record under the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act, unless it falls into one of the law’s exclusions. Personal e-mail messages have always been exempt under GRAMA, and “should be deleted as soon as possible,” according to the agreement.

Electronic data is considered a public record under GRAMA. The new e-mail policy requires that all “substantive correspondence should not be deleted unless it is reasonable to assume the correspondence will not be needed at a later date to protect financial, legal or other government, public or individual rights or interests.”

The Salt Lake Tribune initiated the lawsuit two years ago, after the governor’s office rejected multiple open records requests. Leavitt said he no longer had the requested e-mail messages because of a personal policy to delete all ingoing and outgoing mail within three days.

“In this job, I just deal with too many sensitive things,” Leavitt said in a December 2001 interview with the Tribune.

O’Brien said the agreement will apply to all future Utah administrations, including that of Lt. Gov. Olene S. Walker, who will officially take over for Leavitt this Wednesday, Nov. 5. Leavitt is scheduled to begin his duties at the EPA later this week.

Media groups throughout the state are already applauding what they hope is a new attitude of openness in the governor’s office.

“Just having access to information is the lifeblood of newspapers,” said Michael J. Fox, executive director of the Utah Press Association. “It’s vital to us so we can inform the public.”

(The Salt Lake Tribune v. Leavitt; Media Council: Charles Brown, Lewiston, Idaho) JL

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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