GREENFIELD — Counties, cities, schools and libraries will be instructed this summer on how to save electronic communications such as emails that are deemed public record.
The Indiana Commission on Public Records was charged by the state Legislature this year to come up with a blanket policy on what types of electronic documents are public records and how long they should be retained.
Jim Corridan, director of the state commission, said the commission will meet in July to discuss such a statewide policy. If one is adopted in July, rules for retaining electronic records could go into effect as early as August.
“It will provide tremendous simplification for people trying to find public records at the local level,” Corridan said.
With 92 counties, Corridan said there can be just as many policies on how public electronic records are retained.
Just this month, for example, the Hancock County Commission on Public Records adopted a policy that gives guidelines for each community to adopt its own rules on retaining electronic records.
The county policy, adopted April 12, defines what electronic records are considered public. The email is public, for example, if it contains information related to the conduct of the public’s business, such as agendas, final reports or recommendations and business transactions.
The county policy also states what is “transitory,” or emails that have no administrative, legal or archival value for retaining. Spam and personal correspondence not related to public business are examples of emails that do not need to be retained.
Corridan said it’s good that Hancock County is among 20 to 30 counties that have set guidelines for retaining records. Still, he said other communities have not set policies at all, so that’s why a statewide policy will clarify the issue.
“It’s wonderful that the communities in Hancock County have adopted these rules, but there are other communities that it’s not even on the radar,” Corridan said.
The state policy will also define transitory vs. public emails and how they are to be saved. It will require each government agency to identify a person who will keep such electronic records.
For some agencies, he said, it would be an information technology director. For others, it might be a clerk-treasurer or similar officeholder who maintains electronic records.
Questions over public emails arose in January, when former Mayor Brad DeReamer’s computer was wiped clean just as Mayor Dick Pasco was about to take office. DeReamer’s emails, considered public record, eventually were electronically recovered.
The city does not have a retention policy of its own, though Pasco and technology director Nick Riedman say they would like to establish one specifically for Greenfield.
Corridan said if city officials want to set a policy now, they might have to amend it once the statewide policy is established this summer.
Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore drafted the county policy. She said even if the upcoming statewide policy trumps the county policy, the county commission’s work is not all for naught.
She said by the county commission setting guidelines, it brings awareness to the importance of keeping electronic records.
“That’s what the commission was hoping to do, to bring awareness to all the agencies,” she said.