Proper records management not only conveys organizational and managerial benefits to an office, but also—for local government offices—it is a vital task, necessary for fulfilling important legal requirements and duties. The following are just a few of the reasons your county should take records management seriously.
In most counties, space is not the final frontier; it is the final battle. It is rare for a county office or courthouse to have all the space it needs. Most local officials would complain that the necessary records of the office are rapidly filling up all available space. Courthouses are bursting at the seams with old records stuffed into basements, storage closets, attics, and other creative locations. For this reason alone, it is important and cost effective for a county to implement a records management program.
Records Serve as a Legal Foundation
In a society of laws, local governments and the citizens they serve are both dependent upon good documentation to demonstrate their legal status. Court orders, marriage licenses, and the minutes of the county commission are just a few examples of important documents that create relationships, establish rights or liabilities, and authorize certain actions. When disputes arise over legal issues, it is important to have good documentation on which to rely. Local governments have an important responsibility to preserve these records. Proper records management will ensure these records are preserved and can be found when needed.
Open Records Requirements
Since government records are generally open to public inspection, the task of managing records becomes even more important and more complicated. The principle of allowing public access to government records, combined with so-called “sunshine laws,” which require open meetings, is considered an important check on government and an important defense against corruption in public office and mismanagement of public resources. Unless there is a specific legal exemption that makes a record confidential, the public has the right to inspect and get a copy of the records of government agencies. So you must as a county official, not only preserve and keep records, you must also allow public access to these records for inspection. Unless your records are well organized and well protected, you may not be able to comply with public requests for information, undermining public confidence in government and hindering your office’s relationship with the citizens it serves.
Historical Preservation of Documents
Counties play a vital role in preserving our nation’s history. The documents and records of local governments give us insights into the lives of our ancestors and the circumstances of their times. Counties with too many records and too little space for the records end up putting them wherever they can. In many cases, these storage areas do not adequately protect the records from the elements. Heat, moisture, mildew, insects, and vermin can quickly render records useless. The county and its citizens may be losing important information as well as a part of their past and their heritage. With proper records management, the important records are preserved, the less essential records are destroyed when no longer useful so they do not take up all the available space, the records are catalogued and organized so officials and the public can access them, and records are stored under proper conditions to enable long-term preservation.