LITTLE ROCK — State Treasurer Dennis Milligan has responded to recent news reports on events during his campaign for office by claiming that the emails that are the basis of the reports cannot be verified because his campaign deleted all its emails after the election.

LITTLE ROCK — State Treasurer Dennis Milligan has responded to recent news reports on events during his campaign for office by claiming that the emails that are the basis of the reports cannot be verified because his campaign deleted all its emails after the election.


Milligan’s office also instituted a policy last month of requiring employees to delete all emails after 30 days. Officials say the same policy is in place at the secretary of state’s office and the attorney general’s office, and it does not violate any state laws — though critics question whether it is necessary and whether it is consistent with the spirit of open government.


Jim Harris, Milligan’s chief of staff, told the Arkansas News Bureau the treasurer’s office adopted the policy because "after a while your email gets to where it’s a humongous amount of information."


Laura Labay, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, said Martin’s office has the same policy because without regular deletion of emails, "our in-boxes just fill up and we don’t have enough room." She also said the policy predates Martin’s term in office.


Under the Arkansas General Records Retention Schedule, created by Act 918 of 2005, state agencies, boards and commission are required to retain "substantive" correspondence, including emails, for at least four years.


Substantive correspondence is defined as "communication that has significant administrative value and pertains to the implementation or modification of an agency’s administrative operations, rules, or policies and procedures that govern the agency."


Correspondence that is not substantive "may be destroyed after it has served its intended purpose or is no longer of administrative value of the agency."


The schedule states that the retention periods are intended only as minimums and "are not intended to prevent individual agencies from establishing longer retention periods for any of their records."


The schedule does not apply to constitutional officers, however. They are free to set their own policies on record retention.


Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association and ex-officio chairman of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Coalition, said the governor and the attorney general are shielded from FOI requests by the law’s "working papers" exemption, but he said that for other constitutional officers, "I would suggest it’s bad practice."


"It makes it appear as if they’re trying to hide something," he said. "As a public official, it’s always better to err on the side of transparency and being open. Why in the world would you destroy those records after 30 days if you really were intent on being open and transparent in your conduct of the office?


Larimer was skeptical of the claim that leaving emails in the system for more than 30 days would create storage problems.


"I can’t imagine any of them having a volume of email that would require them to clear their email after 30 days," he said.


Arkansas state agencies use an email system, arkansas.gov, managed by the state Department of Information Systems. A DIS spokeswoman said the system has no trouble retaining years’ worth of emails.


The lieutenant governor is the only constitutional officer who uses that system, however. The others manage their own systems.


Don Faulkner, chief information security officer at the University of Arkansas, said it is impossible to say what constitutional officers’ email systems can handle without knowing specifics, but he said that "I would find it surprising that I could only maintain 30 days of email as a state (constitutional officer)."


Faulkner also questioned the need for most of the constitutional officers to have their own email systems independent of DIS.


"Why are constitutional officers duplicating infrastructure that already exists at the state level and setting their own policies based on their understanding of IT as opposed to being guided by good IT governance?" he said.


Little Rock lawyer and former Republican state legislator Dan Greenberg, an advocate for open government, said he knew of nothing in state law that would prohibit constitutional officers from deleting emails after 30 days, or even sooner.


"But certainly with respect to respecting the public’s interests, it’s very difficult to come up with a good reason to have such an extensive program of destroying historical records," he said.


Greenberg said the Legislature chose to exclude constitutional officers from Act 918 of 2005, "but I think it would be pretty easy for the Legislature to extend its current retention policy so as to extend it to even more of state government, and in fact I think it makes sense to extend it parts of state government that are not exempted from the FOI."


Milligan, a Republican, ran for office on a pledge to bring transparency and integrity to the treasurer’s office in the wake of the arrest and conviction of his predecessor, Democrat Martha Shoffner, on bribery and extortion charges. He said in an April 23 Facebook post that he was "proud of the initial steps we have taken to make this office the most transparent administration in history."


Greenberg commented, "A promise to bring transparency is very difficult to square with an energetic policy of records destruction."