The state of Alaska says it needs more time to produce emails Sarah Palin sent as governor and that were requested under the public records act more than two years ago as she was running for vice president.
Alaska Attorney General John Burns said in January that he had an "unequivocal expectation that all requested records that are not privileged will be provided no later than May 31." But Deputy Chief of Staff Randy Ruaro wrote Burns on Tuesday saying it is going to take at least until June 10.
Ruaro said the governor's office will be finished deciding which emails to release by May 31. But the process of charging fees to those who made the public records requests, of copying the documents through a commercial printing company, and of shipping them out is going to take longer.
The requests were first made in the fall of 2008 from several media organizations and Anchorage activist Andree McLeod. The requests vary somewhat but encompassed every email that had been written or received by Palin on her state account, as well as on any private account that was maintained by Palin and her husband if it related to state business.
The state initially said it was going to charge research and other fees to those who wanted the documents. But officials reversed course and are now going to just charge fees for copying and shipping the thousands of documents.
That charge won't be insignificant. Officials have identified more than 26,500 pages of emails, although it's not clear how many of those will actually be released. Linda Perez, administrative director for the governor's office, said a preliminary quote from the printer's put the cost at three cents a page. She said she won't know about the shipping "until I know how many boxes are in each set."
The state says it is providing printed copies because it doesn't have the software to electronically redact information considered privileged, personal or otherwise exempt from the disclosure law. State lawyers went through printouts of each email to make recommendations for what information to withhold.
The lawyers are done, according to Perez. She said the governor's office is now going through the emails.
"It's the governor's office that has to decide, yes, we're going to redact this or no we're not," Perez said.
Public records in Alaska are generally supposed to be provided within 10 days, but the deadline can be extended for more complicated requests. These requests were made two-and-a-half years ago when Palin was running for vice president. Palin has subsequently resigned from office, been replaced, and is now a possible candidate for president.
State officials said they've been doing the best they can and weren't prepared for requests for such huge amounts of data stored in antiquated electronic databases. Officials said it was made more difficult by the fact that Palin commonly used a Yahoo account to conduct state business, rather than her official state email account.
Technicians searched for those records by sifting through email accounts of more than 50 employees, including Cabinet members, executive staff and close aides, to look for emails Palin sent or received from her personal account.
The state has fulfilled some of the public records requests, including providing MSNBC.com last year with nearly 3,000 pages of emails Todd Palin sent or received from the governor and top members of her staff. They helped demonstrate the key role that the "First Dude" played in policy, personnel decisions and political strategy for the governor.
MSNBC.com worked with a document management company, which had also offered to help the state with its public records issues, to scan the photocopies of the Todd Palin emails it received and turn them into a public archive on the Internet.
MSNBC.com has reported it plans to join with other news organizations to post a similar searchable archive of the broader Palin emails once released.
Reach Sean Cockerham at email@example.com or 257-4344.
By SEAN COCKERHAM