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GOP Sen. Wants Executive Records Kept Longer

Republicans concerned with destruction of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s records have introduced legislation to require emails and paper records to be stored longer.

S.7334 was introduced Wednesday in the state Senate by Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, with five Republican co-sponsors. The document retention standards established by the bill would require executive departments, agencies, offices, and commissions, as well as the Executive Chamber itself, to retain all written and electronic records, including e-mails, as well as electronic metadata. These documents must be retained for two years under this legislation, except if documents are anticipated to be part of litigation, in which case they must be retained for five years or two years after litigation is no longer reasonably anticipated, whichever is later.

State law allows the governor’s office to decide which documents to retain or discard. That’s vastly different than the law governing the President of the United States, where the Presidential Records Act deems all presidential and vice-presidential records to be owned by the public. According to a recent Spectrum News NY1 report, Cuomo’s office had worked around email records retention by using a PIN-to-PIN Blackberry messaging system with key aides.

In 2015, Cuomo ended a state policy to automatically delete state employees’ emails after 90 days after the state policy was criticized by lawmakers and open government groups. A meeting set up by Cuomo to discuss the issue was attended by three members of Cuomo’s staff, representatives from the state Attorney General and Comptroller’s offices and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown. Goodell, according to the New York Times, described the meeting as “a press conference in the guise of a summit, aimed at criticizing the Legislature.” According to the 2015 New York Times report, Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, D-Manhattan, sponsored legislation to require that emails be retained for at least seven years and said the state’s automatic deletion policy should have been stopped when the criticism first cropped up this winter. He blamed Cuomo both for creating the policy and not suspending it when the issue came to light.

“Instead, he dug himself in, and said, ‘No, I’m right, I’m always right, of course I’m right, I’m the governor,'” O’Donnell told the New York Times.“And no one agreed with him.”

Earlier this year, the state Attorney General’s office sent notice to Cuomo to preserve any records or files that may be relevant in the probe into sexual harassment claims against Cuomo.

“The governor is leaving in disgrace after his decade-long abuse of power has finally come to light,” Jordan said in a news release. “He has given himself two weeks before he leaves office. Have his office shredders been running all of this time? Are the computers being wiped clean?” said Senator Jordan. “I’m introducing legislation to prevent any future governor from destroying or ‘misplacing’ potentially incriminating records as I have no doubt Cuomo’s lieutenants have already done. My bill will make sure that every record, be it paper or electronic and including e-mail, of a governor’s administration is retained for two years. This legislation also ensures, should the misdeeds of any future governor come before a court, that all existing evidence will be available to the court so that justice may be done.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate’s Rules Committee, but won’t be acted on until at least January unless the state Legislature returns to Albany for a special legislative session.

“By making these changes to how the executive retains its records, the state can provide transparency — in the sense of public access and justice — in the sense of preventing the evidence of misdeeds from being destroyed — to the people of New York state,” Jordan wrote.

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