The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that the city is considering a new records retention policy that could potentially destroy “decades of old documents.” Some citizens are raising questions.
An excerpt from the story:
Berke’s senior adviser, Stacy Richardson, said creating a new public records retention policy is part of being open and could save taxpayers money. She said the city will keep the public informed on what records will be kept and which ones should be put in a public server for residents to access on their own. A records policy, she said, is complicated and takes time to study.
“The city is 175 years old and has been accruing documents for all those years. We’ve got to have a policy,” she said. “We’re not going to go down to a storage building and throw a match in there.”
But several Chattanooga residents who have fought the city for information criticize the decision to destroy any public records that are part of the city’s history and could potentially be used to hold government officials accountable.
“It just seems so wrong that the city would use taxpayer dollars to destroy records,” said Rebecca Little, who recently won a public records lawsuit against Chattanooga.
In February, an appeals court judge ruled that the city had to pay $70,000 in attorney fees after officials “willfully” withheld records from Little. She had requested annexation records dating back to 1972. She said she wanted those records to prove the city hadn’t implemented sewer and road plans promised 40 years earlier when the area was annexed.
The City Council voted in 2002 to follow the MTAS guidelines for keeping records, but Richardson said city officials didn’t follow through.
The basement of the city’s annex building is stacked high with documents, some decades old. Some are stored on microfiche, said Chief Information Officer Brent Messer. Digitizing records would give the public quicker access to them, he said.
Don Lepard, founder of streetlight vendor Global Green Lighting, also questions the need to get rid of documents.
Lepard has been caught in a three-way struggle with the city and its utility EPB, over a contract to install streetlights. He has said he found discrepancies in EPB bills for streetlights through public city records.