FRONT ROYAL — When the Northern Virginia Daily sent a Freedom of Information Act request seeking an email written by Blair Mitchell, a former county and Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority attorney, it was revealed that his emails were deleted before the state code allows.

Mitchell retired in April 2016 and, according to the Library of Virginia’s records retention and disposition schedule, his emails should have been saved until the end of this year. According to the Library of Virginia’s records retention and disposition policy, its rules are enforced in the Virginia Public Records Act section of the state code.

The email that the FOIA request sought had a subject line stating “ITFederal.” It was sent from Mitchell to former EDA director Jennifer McDonald and Lucy Beaty of TLC Settlements. It referenced former Congressman Bob Goodlatte asking that ITFederal developer Curt Tran be the recipient of a $10 million loan.

County Attorney Dan Whitten said over the phone that the emails were deleted Feb. 1, 2017. He said he is aware of the retention rules but that the deletion was done without his knowledge. He added that he is not sure how they were deleted, but assumed it was done remotely.

He said the county still has Mitchell’s computer and all of his word documents, but the emails are gone.

“We are working on trying to recover at least a portion of emails from his computer,” Whitten stated in an email.

He said that a series of emails dating back to about 2010 have been recovered so far, and the county is working on getting the rest.

Whitten said his understanding of how the emails were deleted is that Administrative Assistant Shelley Hayes requested that Richard Maxwell, Warren County Public Schools information technology employee, delete the email accounts of seven former employees. He said the request was just for the accounts to be deleted, not the emails themselves.

Other emails that were deleted belonged to former commissioner of the revenue employees Erin Whited and Deanna Heishman, former board of supervisors clerk Janice Standridge, intern Nicholas Schaffer, former deputy building official William Miller, former deputy treasurer Teresa Lamb and former clerk of circuit court Jennifer Sims.

Maxwell did not respond to a phone message seeking comment and Hayes declined to comment.

Whitten said there are no sanctions for violating the Library of Virginia’s records retention rules. A phone message to the Library of Virginia’s Archives, Records and Collections department was not returned by press time.

UPDATE, 2 p.m. Aprll 9:  Emily Mounce, Board of Supervisors clerk, stated in an email that the county worked with information technology employees Monday evening and Tuesday morning and were able to recover Mitchell's emails from 2007 through his retirement.

Mounce stated that she is not sure if "all the emails" were found "but those recovered number in the tens of thousands dating back over 10 years, both received and sent."
 
She also provided the email the Northern Virginia Daily requested through a Freedom of Information Act.

– Contact Josh Gully at jgully@nvdaily.com