County weighs e-mail retention policy

Birthday greetings. An invitation to lunch. A boss asking an underling for a file.

These types of messages are among the torrent of e-mail that flow through a typical office every day. They seldom have any value beyond the moment they are read.

But Clark County stores all e-mail, whether it’s spam or a one-line memo, in an electronic repository brimming with 150 million messages.

County officials say that storing the growing mountain of e-mail indefinitely demands more money and staff time than it’s worth. Storage capacity must be increased regularly and staff must sift through reams of messages when someone requests an older e-mail.

The county is developing a policy for purging e-mail after a certain amount of time, depending on the e-mail. A document deemed significant enough to be a record would be kept permanently, while a note about an office party would be saved for five years.

“We’re going to have to change,” said Russ Nelson, deputy information technology director for the county. “We spend a lot of time keeping electronic data storage functioning because of the sheer amount of it.”

Language in an early policy draft states that disposing of e-mails will be left to the discretion of employees.

County spokesman Erik Pappa said that employees will get to decide which messages to delete after they’ve been trained on retention guidelines. For now, all messages will be kept for at least five years, Pappa said.

Pappa noted that even when workers delete e-mails from their queues, these messages still can be retrieved from the office computer system.

Under the new policy, the county would keep e-mail far longer than the cities in the valley, Pappa said. Las Vegas purges all e-mail after 45 days, while North Las Vegas and Henderson eliminates e-mail within 60 days, he said.

Jace Radke, spokesman for the city of Las Vegas, confirmed that e-mail is cleared out after 45 days. He said the city has begun working on an e-mail retention policy.

The county is on the right track for treating e-mail as public records, said Barry Smith, executive director for the Nevada Press Association.

In fact, Smith, who read the county’s proposed policy, said five years seems too long for some of the trivial e-mail. He said he was more concerned with Las Vegas disposing of its e-mail after 45 days.

“That to me seems very short-sighted,” Smith said, calling it a disservice “for the public that needs to have access to those exchange of e-mails.”

Once a document is deemed a record, it falls under the record-retention policy, the county’s Pappa said.

The rules forbid records from being destroyed if they relate to a pending lawsuit, government investigation or an audit.

Legal opinions and notices are kept permanently. Wage schedules are kept six years after they are revamped. Personnel files remain three years after an employee leaves.

If any of these records are transmitted via e-mail, the messages are stored for at least five years, Pappa said.

Reducing the volume in the long haul will save taxpayers the cost of maintaining and upgrading machines, Nelson said. It also will increase transparency in information because technicians won’t have to spend days combing through extraneous data to find e-mails, he said.

Still, there are no plans now for getting rid of the e-mails that eat up storage capacity and staff time. In a sense, these messages could be grandfathered in. “We’re really looking at a go-forward basis,” Nelson said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at or 702-455-4519.


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