- Associated Press - Friday, May 22, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration on Friday ended its practice of automatically deleting emails after 90 days following criticism that it was an affront to open government.

Instead, administration staffers will manually delete emails as they choose - though emails containing certain important records will be retained longer.

Cuomo will also seek to introduce legislation that would close a loophole in existing law that largely exempts the state Senate and Assembly from existing open records laws, according to Bill Mulrow, a top Cuomo aide.

The announcements came at a meeting Friday between the administration and representatives of the state comptroller and attorney general. The meeting was called by Cuomo’s office to discuss the creation of a uniform email retention policy and open records policy for all state agencies.

Top lawmakers skipped the meeting, a decision that Mulrow said amounted to “essentially boycotting a meeting on transparency.”

Of the loophole allowing the Legislature to ignore many records requirements, Mulrow said, “I find that simply outrageous and inexplicable.”

Lawmakers had said Cuomo was trying to divert attention from his email policy by focusing on the Legislature’s long-standing exemption, which is shared by many state legislatures around the country. They noted that Cuomo didn’t need legislative input to change the retention policy.

“It is disappointing that the administration cannot fix their flawed email policy without some hastily arranged public relations stunt,” Mike Murphy, spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said Thursday. On Friday, Murphy noted there is legislation in the Senate that would make the Legislature comply with open records law while requiring Cuomo’s administration to retain emails.

“We don’t delete emails and the governor can revise his policy whenever he wants, so there was really no need for a meeting,” said Michael Whyland, spokesman for Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. A spokesman for Senate Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, declined to comment.

The boycott wasn’t total: One lawmaker, Republican Assemblyman Andy Goodell of Chautauqua County, participated in Friday’s meeting via the Internet.

Good-government groups have called on Cuomo to preserve emails for at least seven years. John Kaehny, executive director of the group Reinvent Albany, said Cuomo’s decision to end his auto delete policy is a good step - but it comes after “years and years” of emails were already purged.

“It’s a good thing when government stops doing a bad thing, but the arsonist already burned down the warehouse,” he said.

As for the need to make the Legislature fully compliant with open records laws, Kaehny said he supports the change, but it’s hardly a top priority. “It’s a distraction from the governor’s email policy,” he said.

The practice of purging emails dates back to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s administration, but Cuomo recently expanded it to cover most other state agencies, which previously operated under different policies. He instituted a similar purge policy in 2007 when he was attorney general. Current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman suspended the practice this year.

The comptroller’s office has a separate system with no automatic deletions in which individuals can retain emails indefinitely.

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