In the continuing series of articles on local government, I am writing about the important role the numerous boards and commissions play within the community, and the vital contribution the volunteers who serve their community as members of the boards make by providing input and direction impacting all of our futures. In this article, I’m writing about the Records Commission.
Local governments create records that must be safeguarded and made accessible to the public. Ohio’s Public Records Act governs the public records rules and also calls for the establishment of a local Records Commission.
The city of Sidney’s Records Commission is composed of the city manager, the finance officer, the law director, and a citizen appointed by the city manager. Current membership includes City Manager Mark Cundiff, Finance Officer Ginger Adams, Law Director Jeff Amick, and citizen appointee Louise Humphrey. By law, the Commission must meet at least once every six months.
The Records Commission has several duties. It must establish the rules for retention and disposal of records, review, approve or deny applications for one-time disposal of obsolete records (RC-1) and establish the schedules of records retention and disposition (RC-2) submitted by municipal offices. Once established by the Local Records Commission, the schedules are submitted to both the Ohio History Connection — State Archives and the Ohio Auditor of State for review and approval.
Evolving challenges require local governments to write and revise policies and procedures to ensure access to those public records. The Local Records Commission, at any time, may review any record retention schedule it has previously approved and, for good cause, revise that schedule.
Before the Local Records Commission receives and reviews the proposed schedules, to ensure that public records are properly maintained, each city department is asked to inventory and identify records created and maintained by individual departments or offices as a first step. Once the inventory is complete, the records manager in each department must go about the task of assigning an appropriate retention period for each record series.
There are typically four “values” that must be taken into account when reviewing the record series and assigning a retention period. First, the administrative need for this record should be considered in determining how long each office needs these records to do their work. Second, is the fiscal impact the record has on operations and its need for future financial audits. Third, it should be determined if the record has and legal ramifications that may document any rights or obligations. Fourth and finally, does the record have any significant historical relevance inasmuch as it contains important information about people and places. Historical records preservation must take into account not only access control and physical security, but possible exposure to fire, temperature, humidity and vermin, any of which could all damage the historic records beyond repair.
Records typically have a life-cycle: 1) creation/receipt; 2) maintenance/use; and, 3) disposition. If the record has reached the end of its life cycle, it must either be preserved if it is a permanent record or it may be destroyed if it has met the appropriate retention period.
Fortunately, the Local Government Records Program at Ohio History Connection (previously the Ohio Historical Society) provides suggested record series and retention periods.
Readers might ask the question: “What is the definition of public record?” The Ohio Revised Code [Section 149.011(G)] provides three criteria for what materials meet the definition of a record. To be defined as a record, the item(s) in question must: 1) be stored in a fixed medium (i.e., paper, digital image, audio/video); 2) be created or received during the course of a public office’s business; and, 3) document the functions, policies, procedures, activities, and decisions of the public office. Not all materials an office collects, creates, or distributes meet the definition of a record as noted above.
For example, meeting minutes are public records, but junk mail, blank forms and duplicate copies are non-records. These non-records are not subject to records retention.
To ensure compliance with public records laws, all elected officials or their designees are required by law to attend a Public Records Training once an elected term. The training is three hours in length and covers the Public Records Law and Open Meetings Act. Although I have attended the training in the past, council members have designated the city clerk as our designee. In addition, the clerk acts as the designated records retention official.
Elements of an effective records management system include having current schedules of records retention and disposition, as well as making those records accessible to the public and other entities through policies and procedures created for how to respond to those requests. An effective records management system must also ensure that permanent and historical records are properly preserved. Residents of Sidney can rest assured knowing their public records are properly managed through their entire life cycle, in large part thanks to the work of the local Records Commission.
In my next article, I’ll write about the Zoning Board of Appeals. The Zoning Board of Appeals reviews and determines requests for variances, conditional uses and interpretations of the Zoning Code.
The writer is the mayor of Sidney.