AYER -As mandatory public records law training looms for all involved in Ayer town government, the Ayer Finance Committee voiced its unanimous support for email archiving for town email accounts at its Sept. 12 meeting.
Annually, the email archival contract would cost $3,000. It is a cost above and beyond the $3,900 annual cost the town pays for internet service through MecNet, Inc.
Since the Fiscal Year 2013 budget is set, it's likely the added $3,000 cost would be paid through a reserve fund transfer with future costs built into the omnibus budget. Such a vote has yet to be finalized, but the committee first heard a pitch for the service from IT Coordinator Cindy Knox.
The archival service would store "anything sent or received" via email, said Knox. "The policy is not to delete, so the server would preserve everything that comes through the system.
Finance Committee Chairman Scott Houde said he "got choked-up on the $250 [hourly] fee" that MecNet's contract cites to retrieve archived emails.
In early March, Houde individually demanded all emails between Boston developer Trinity Financial and Ayer selectmen Gary Luca and Jim Fay. The two were ardent supports of Trinity's proposed conversion of the 19-acre Vicksburg Square Innovation and Technology campus on Devens into a 246 unit affordable housing complex. The proposal failed to garner Ayer and Harvard voter support.
Houde has not shared the content of the Luca emails received. Fay's
Houde voiced concern that a $250 hourly fee would be a "deterrent" to citizens making public records requests.
Knox said a company spokesman has verbal assured "they rarely charge it The fee is to prevent abuse of the retrieval service."
Houde asked for it in writing, and suggested a set number of free requests for the town's account. Knox said she'd inquire.
Finance Committee member Michael Pattenden asked if a unique town email address could be established so, with a quick "cc", documents could be auto-archived "so I don't have to worry if I lost my main drive."
Yes, said Knox before noting another looming dilemma- each town-issued email box has a 2 gigabyte storage limit.
"Is there a plan in place or policy that at some point that you need to clear it [an individual's account] out?" asked Houde
Emails could be archived locally but "it's not easy," said Knox.
Houde asked about the creation of a shared server "that would be accessible to the public." Conflict broke out a couple of years ago over the use of the password-protected Dropbox website for selectmen and the Finance Committee to store its working drafts of a 5-year budget plan and draft financial policies.
"Dropbox works well," said Knox. "Google Documents is another one."
"What about website folders" open for read-only access for all, asked selectman Pauline Conley.
"The website works well for something like that," agreed Knox.
How can we "clean up our mail box" if email must be preserved, asked Finance Committee member Brian Muldoon. "Mine is almost full. I have a couple of years of stuff."
An approach has yet to be mapped out, said Knox. "I have to find the best way to do this." said Knox.
"Is there a limit on how long must we hold them?" asked Finance Committee member Michael Pattenden.
Seven years, said Knox. Conley suggested it's more complicated that, with lengthy state requirements on record retention. "Some you must keep forever."
The committee unanimously voted to support the email archiving concept with clarification to follow on the mid-year funding mechanism.
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