Moreland emails saved from Cuomo purge policy
ALBANY—The Cuomo administration decided to preserve emails generated by the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, breaking with a policy of automatically deleting most messages after 90 days that the Democratic governor last week pledged to review.
A spokeswoman for the state's Office of Information Technology Services confirmed to Capital last week that an exception was made for the Moreland Commission, but refused to elaborate.
The commission's nine-month tenure was attracted heavy criticism, from charges that senior aides to Governor Andrew Cuomo weighed in about pending investigations to action by legislators who sued to block subpoenas seeking details of their outside jobs.
Email deletion was another, albeit smaller, point of controversy, according to several people involved in the commission's work.
Moreland investigators began to notice in October 2013 that older messages were disappearing from their in-boxes and several of them, including Danya Perry, the chief of investigations, brought their concerns to Regina Calcaterra, the commission's executive director.
(Calcaterra was a central figure in the Moreland controversy; a Cuomo loyalist, she reportedly conveyed the governor's wishes to the ostensibly independent-acting commission and reported back to the administration on the commissioner's activities.)
The auto-deletion continued, the people said, but staffers were careful to preserve important messages either by printing them or storing them to a hard disk. The state decided to keep all commission emails, and now says they have been preserved.
On Nov. 1, one of the law firms that was subpoenaed for records about a Republican state senator it employed provided notice it was likely to sue to quash the request. It said in a letter that the Moreland Commission should preserve “any communications, including but not limited to those with any state and local governmental agencies, commissions, chamber, and public officials using public or private emails.”
Michelle McDonald, the I.T.S. spokeswoman, declined to say what prompted the state to create its own archive.
“Notwithstanding the 90-day email policy applied to individual accounts, all Moreland Commission emails were preserved on the system,” she said. “All Moreland emails were preserved and are being maintained by I.T.S.”
Perry and Calcaterra declined to comment.
The Moreland Commission was disbanded in April 2014 in conjunction with a state budget agreement that tightened the state's bribery laws, created a system of public campaign finance for that year's elections and increased campaign finance disclosure and enforcement.
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan, sent a letter to the commission's co-chairs on April 3 saying he was “disappointed” the commission was disbanded and asking that it preserve all the documents from its work. They were delivered on April 10, a spokesman for the prosecutor said.
Citing Bharara's ongoing review of the commission, its attorney, Mike Koenig, declined to comment.
The tale of the Moreland Commission's electronic records underscores the importance of email preservation, advocates say, and helps make the case for suspending the auto-deletion policy while a new one is formulated.
“It just shows the need for a consistent email deletion policy that allows all records to be preserved for up to seven years," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union. “There's no reason this should be the exception.”
Late Thursday, as legislators moved forward with bills and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced he was suspending the deletion policy in his office, a Cuomo aide said the governor would convene a transparency summit to examine changes in the email policy. At the same time, former governor David Paterson, the Cuomo-picked chair of the Democratic State Committee, called legislators hypocritical because their offices are not fully subject to the Freedom of Information Law.
Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell, a Democrat from Morningside Heights, said legislation he is sponsoring with State Senator Liz Krueger would forestall the automatic email deletion and subject the Legislature to more disclosure.
“While I have worked well with former governor Paterson in the past in our shared communities, and I appreciate his interest in transparency for our government, I think on this occasion he is working on behalf of others to deflect attention from the crucial matter at hand—an indefensible 90-day email deletion policy,” O'Donnell stated. “Governor Cuomo’s proposed meeting to discuss a unified government policy on email is well-intentioned, but simply insufficient. As Attorney General Schneiderman recognized when he suspended the 90-day policy for his own office, an immediate halt to the practice is necessary. Every single day we wait, emails are being deleted automatically that may prove relevant for future investigations.”