Local Politics

Easley: State Employees Trusted to Handle E-Mail

Posted April 2, 2008 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated April 2, 2008 6:51 p.m. EDT

— State employees must be trusted to decide which e-mails to save and which to delete on a daily basis, Gov. Mike Easley said Wednesday.

E-mails to state government have been at the center of controversy in recent weeks since a fired Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman said Easley's administration had an unofficial policy of deleting e-mail communications daily. Easley and members of his staff have denied the allegation.

Handwritten notes from two public information officers supported the fired worker's claim. The notes indicated the governor's press office told public information officers, during a May 29 meeting, to delete e-mails.

Easley has asked for a review of what was said at the May 29 meeting, and he has established a panel to review policies on how to handle e-mail correspondence.

"Delete can mean a lot of things," Easley said. "If you've got something of value, you move it to a folder and then delete it. If you need to print it, print it and then delete off your box."

The executive branch of North Carolina government receives about 900,000 e-mails each work day, he said, making it necessary to delete frivolous messages routinely.

"I trust our state employees," he said. "The same thing that makes them honest about keeping valuable information is the same character trait that keeps them from walking out of the office with (government) equipment.

"At some point, we have to trust them to make the right decisions."

Easley helped craft the state's public records law as attorney general in 1995. The law says every letter, note or e-mail that has "administrative value" must be saved.

"(Administrative value) is determined by the person who reads it. It's the only way you can maintain the law," he said.

Keeping millions of e-mails every year would be an administrative nightmare, he said.

"If I kept every bit of it, you then have to answer the question to the taxpayer, 'Hey, I make $8 an hour and pay taxes to the state of North Carolina. Why are you wasting my money on an invitation to a baby shower and junk spam?'" he said.