At the Local Government Records Commission’s meeting on October 23, ADAH director Ed Bridges (who chairs the commission) presented a certificate of appreciation to Butler County Sheriff Diane Harris. Last month, Sheriff Harris apprehended three Georgia visitors who tried to abscond with historical county records from the courthouse basement. As reported in the Montgomery Advertiser on October 17, the sheriff shouted, “Whoa, those are our records!” and opened the door of the researchers’ car, whereupon “yellow-looking documents flew out all over the place.” The alleged thieves (who took two record books and tore pages from another) were charged with theft and tampering with governmental documents.
Sheriff Harris receives her award from Dr. Bridges at the
Local Government Records Commission Meeting
In his remarks during the presentation, Dr. Bridges called Sheriff Harris “a hero to the Local Government Records Commission” for her quick action in preventing the loss of public records. She credited local citizens who had alerted her to the theft-in-progress. Dr. Bridges also noted the need for better security in records storage areas, as other counties and municipalities are often threatened with such thefts.
For help with improving records storage and security, contact the ADAH Government Records Division at (334)242-4452, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for Providing Security in
Although government officials have a statutory duty to provide access to most records, they are also required by law to protect records from “mutilation, loss or destruction” (Code of Alabama 1975, Section 36-12-2). Ensuring records’ security can be problematic, especially when little-used or historical materials are stored away from office space and access to them cannot easily be monitored. Here are some tips for preventing the theft or mutilation of inactive records:
1. Ensure that a staff member is present in any area where records are readily accessible. Many agencies have “old records rooms”
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that open off of working areas but are not routinely staffed. Genealogists, title researchers, or other visitors may be allowed to “come and go” without any supervision. Records should never be left unobserved when visitors are using them. Either have staff accompany the visitor or (better yet) move a staff member’s desk into the room to provide full-time surveillance.
2. Lock remote records storage areas. Basements, attics, or off-site buildings where records are stored should not be open to unrestricted public access. Keep them locked, along with unstaffed doors that could permit unobserved egress from the building. Naturally, public access to locked records areas must still be available upon request. Agency staff (not maintenance personnel or others with no responsibility for records) should retain all keys and be prepared either to accompany visitors to remote storage areas or to retrieve records for them.
3. Document public access to records storage areas in writing. Under Blankenship v. City of Hoover (590 So2d 245 (Ala. 1991), agencies may require people who use public records to fill out a form indicating their name, address, and reason for requesting records. Information on the form cannot be used as a reason for denying access, but it provides useful documentation if records are later discovered to be damaged or missing.
4. Supervise copying of fragile records. While members of the public have a statutory right to “take a copy of any public record,” the agency has no legal duty to produce all copies by machine. Staff may require researchers to make hand-written copies, rather than subjecting old and fragile records to damage from a photocopier.
5. Limit items researchers may take into records storage areas. Bulky coats, large bags or purses, and briefcases can be used to hide or hold records smuggled from the agency. Staff should ask visitors to leave such materials behind before entering the records room and can request to inspect their belongings when they leave. This and other agency policies regarding access should be clearly posted at the entrance to the records room
More information on records security and access issues may be found in the procedural leaflet “Providing Access to Government Records,” available on the ADAH website: www.archives.state.al.us.
Loose Records Program Update
Alabama’s loose records microfilming program has now produced 3.3 million images of historical loose records and nearly 2,000 rolls of microfilm. Records from 19 counties have already been filmed, while 14 other counties have finished records preparation.
In August, local records archivists Lyn Frazer and Tom Turley, staff of the Genealogical Society of Utah, and representatives from Jefferson and Tallapoosa Counties’ projects, conducted a loose records session at the Society of American Archivists meeting in Birmingham. The session was repeated for the Society of Alabama Archivists at its November 8 meeting in Mobile.
The Local Government Records Commission recently presented Mrs. Emily Worthington
The Stonebergs, Dr. Bridges, and Lyn Frazer
admire Mrs. Worthington’s certificate
with a certificate honoring her late husband, Bryan, the founder of Cherokee County’s loose records project. Also attending were Robert and Connie Stoneberg, GSU volunteers who are currently filming Cherokee County’s loose records.
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Records Commissions Approve
State and Local RDAs
At its meeting on October 23, 2002, the State Records Commission approved the following records disposition authorities (RDAs):
Local Government Records Commission members approved RDAs for the following agencies:
The two commissions will meet again on Thursday, January 23, 2003. The state commission meeting is at 10 a.m. in the League of Municipalities building, while the local commission will meet at 1:30 p.m. in the Milo Howard Auditorium.
New Member Joins Records Commissions
Margaret Tyus, who had represented the Office of the Secretary of State on the State and Local Government Records Commissions since 1999, resigned from service in July 2002. ADAH has appreciated Ms. Tyus’ participation on the two records commissions. Secretary of State Jim Bennett appointed Rebecca Morris as his new
representative. Currently serving as director of the agency’s Uniform Commercial Code Division, Ms. Morris has also worked for the Department of Revenue in records/information management related projects. We welcome Ms. Morris and look forward to working with her on the commissions.
GRD Staff Trains State Agency
On September 19, as part of the Government Records Division’s outreach activities, state records archivists Richard Wang, Becky Lapczynski-He’bert, and Kerry Pond conducted a seminar on public records laws and records management at a meeting of the Council of Personnel Administrators. More than 40 administrators from 31 state agencies attended the training. GRD staff reviewed those chapters of the Code of Alabama that address the basic record-keeping responsibilities of government employees and advised on the care and handling of records that state agencies create. Agency administrators were reminded that, in order to comply with the law, they must work with GRD staff to create and implement a records disposition authority (RDA) approved by the State Records Commission.
State records archivists are available to provide similar training, or assistance in RDA development, to any state agency upon request. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, contact the ADAH Government Records Division at (334)242-4452 or records@archives. state.al.
Time to Transfer Those State Records!
Even with the governor’s race still undecided at this writing, the election is now over, and changes in many constitutional offices will soon be taking place. ADAH would like to remind and encourage
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state agencies to begin closing out their files and transferring permanent records for preservation at the Archives. All public officials should remember that records documenting the activities and business of their offices are government records and, as such, are subject to state records laws. In Section 36-12-5, the Code of Alabama states that public officials should “contact the Alabama Department of Archives and History when records cease to be current.” Among the most important permanent records that should be transferred to the Archives are the official files of agency heads. By transferring these records to ADAH, state agencies can begin preparing for the next quadrennia. GRD staff are available to provide assistance in transferring records. Contact them at (334)242-4452 or records@archives. state.al.
Short Takes (brief items of interest from ADAH files)