Civil Beat, in its reporting on state policy that allows government emails to be automatically deleted after 60 days unless they are archived, cites the example of Marc Alexander.

The former homeless coordinator, you’ll recall, resigned suddenly in January following allegations regarding his prior service as a Catholic priest and an inappropriate intimate relationship with a woman.

Civil Beat was told that the Abercrombie administration was warned via email about the allegations as long as a year ago, when the governor named Alexander to lead the administration’s efforts on homelessness.

With the help of the Hawaii Attorney General’s office, we’re still looking into that matter. But the larger concern is that state policy is allowing the deletion of potentially valuable public records.

Consider the cautionary tale of Rex Johnson, the former president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, who was forced from office because of racist and sexist emails he forwarded to friends from his state-issued laptop computer.

Johnson had run the HTA, a state agency administratively attached to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, since 2002.

His leadership had generally been praised, as it included the peak tourism years of 2005 to 2007. In 2008, as tourism began to turn downward, the HTA under Johnson aggressively sought to keep visitors coming to the islands.

Then, that August, the media reported Johnson’s use of office e-mail to send raunchy material to — as Johnson explained — his “fishing buddies.”

Some of the jokes targeted Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who were running for president. Many local folks, starting at the top with then Gov. Linda Lingle, concluded that Johnson’s action was damaging the state’s image as a place of tolerance and aloha.

Johnson apologized, and for awhile he held on to his job. But then more emails surfaced and the HTA was soon flooded with demands that Johnson be fired.

By October the HTA board forced Johnson to resign.

Some of the emails were discovered through a state audit of DBEDT within the 60-day retention period. With the help of the AG’s office, more were found after it was learned that Johnson’s emails were inadvertently archived on state servers.

If the state had a system that automatically archived emails, as some states do, Johnson’s emails would have been permanent instead of being uncovered by chance.

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