Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Friday reversed his widely criticized policy of automatically deleting routine emails not deemed "official records" after 90 days, but only after numerous emails from his terms as governor and attorney general had been discarded.
The Cuomo administration downplayed the importance of the action. They said all important emails that rose to the legal definition of "a record" already were being flagged and saved under the 90-day retention policy.
But critics in the legislature and in good-government groups said the policy allowed destruction of records before they might have been deemed important to investigators, the public or news organizations.
"As far as we know, they appear to have scrubbed an unknown number of state agency emails," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which called on Cuomo to end the policy in January.
Cuomo's action means emails in the executive branch not deemed official records can be kept in employees' inboxes, or deleted immediately. The employee will make the decision, Cuomo's counsel Alphonso David said yesterday at a meeting of government officials in Manhattan.
David also said emails deemed records under state archive regulations include contracts and final bills of sale. Examples of nonofficial records are notes such as, "Going to lunch," he said.
A dozen good-government groups welcomed Cuomo's action. But they urged him to match the federal practice of keeping emails for seven years.
As a candidate in 2010 he promised the most transparent administration in history. But he has been dogged by news reports that he culled records from his term as attorney general before they were archived and made public. He also has been criticized for delays in fulfilling public records requests under the Freedom of Information Law. He also resisted calls to end the retention policy.
Cuomo and his top staff generate few if any emails that could be retrieved because they have long chosen to use a BlackBerry messaging system that doesn't automatically retain messages.
Cuomo will now propose legislation to create a uniform system. He will also push the legislature to comply fully with the state Freedom of Information Law. The legislature continues to exempt itself from much of that Watergate-era open records law.
"It seems inexplicable to me that the legislature is not subject to FOIL," said Bill Mulrow, secretary to the governor. "I find that simply outrageous."
The State Senate's Republican majority and the Assembly's Democratic majority declined to attend the meeting.