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Hi Sally (and everyone),

 

It’s great that you’re looking into the development of a records management policy, which is something that every town office should have.  I encourage you to give me a call (828-2204) if you have questions about this or any of the information on VSARA’s website.

 

In records management, there are two kinds of custody: legal and physical.  The legal custodian is the office or individual who has the legal responsibility for maintaining the record, regardless of where the record is physically located.  A physical custodian is any office or individual that physically possesses a record.  Both the legal and the physical custodian have obligations for proper management of the records.  As a best practice, if you are the legal custodian of a record, it should either be in your custody, or you should have a formal agreement with the physical custodian who is holding it for you.

 

Here are two examples:

  1. If your town has backup copies of land records stored at the State Records Center, those records are in your legal custody, but they are in VSARA’s physical custody.  This is why earlier this year you were asked to sign a storage agreement governing the management of those records (although some towns have still not returned their agreement – tsk tsk!).
  2. If you have school registers in your vault, you are the physical custodian of those records.  The legal custodian is the superintendent of schools (see 16 V.S.A. § 1324) so you should have a written agreement in place regarding the management of those registers.

 

Your records management policy should refer to any agreements you have in place, either in your role as legal custodian of records stored elsewhere or as physical custodian of records that are not yours.  The policy should also outline the consequences for officials who fail to turn over records in a timely fashion to the appropriate legal custodian.

 

If a record is out of your physical custody without an agreement or policy, you are exposing yourself to legal liability.  You can’t attest to the authenticity or integrity of the record because you can’t prove that it wasn’t altered.  You also can’t ensure the record is available for public access as required, or that restricted records have been kept secure from unauthorized access.  Having a written policy helps to hold staff members and other town officials responsible for their part in this.

 

The issue of taking work home is a frequent one.  In general, I advise clerks to set a policy that public records cannot be taken home.  What is a public record?  Any written or recorded information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which is produced or acquired in the course of public agency business (see 1 V.S.A. § 317(b)).  Both “open” and “closed/confidential/restricted” records are considered public, because they are records of the people of the State of Vermont.  This definition includes email that is related in any way to work as a public official or employee, even if it is sent from a personal/home email address.  (By the way, it also includes any emails you send to or receive from the VMCTA listserv, if the topic is related to your work.)

 

Record retention is governed by 1 V.S.A. § 317a, which essentially prohibits you from disposing of ANY public record (yes, including email correspondence) unless you are permitted to do so by a specific law or by an authorization issued by our office.  All authorizations that are currently available are on our website here: http://www.vermont-archives.org/records/local/.  If you have questions about what you see there, I am just a phone call or an email away.

 

I hope this is helpful.  As always, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or want to discuss this in more depth.

 

Katie

 

 

Katie Sherman
Records Analyst
Vermont State
Archives and Records Administration
1078 Route 2, Middlesex
Montpelier, VT 05633-7701

(tel) 802-828-2204
(fax) 802-828-3710
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From: Vermont Municipal Government Discussion Network [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Sally Hoyler
Sent: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 10:34 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: records management policy

 

Anyone have a records management policy or ideas about such a policy to share? I've collected lots of info from the VSARA site which is useful, but also overwhelming when starting from scratch. I'm feeling the need to get all town officers on board about how we handle records, paper and electronic. Of particular concern are how we manage correspondence between officers and making sure records remain within the office so that they are properly available as public record. The increasing use of e-mail and folks taking work home is leaving me feeling out of control of the very thing I'm responsible for! I figure an overall policy encompassing all records would be a great tool and help correct any bad practices without singling anyone out.

Thank you! Sally

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Sally Hoyler
Town Clerk/Treasurer
PO Box 10
Ripton, VT 05766
802-388-2266 ph
802-388-0012 fx