Local Government Records Management

By: 
Gerrie Schipske

How long does the City of Long Beach have to keep public records? What records can be destroyed? Who decides which files are kept and which destroyed? These are a few of questions raised as the City Council places on the agenda the destruction of records from the city auditor’s office.

Q. Where is the law found that governs the retention of public records?

A. The Secretary of State established the Local Government Records Program to provide guidelines for local government records retention and to provide archival support. Other attempts at standardization include the California Association of City Clerks’ 1998 list of common local government records and recommended retention periods. The goal of the State Archives, in compliance with Government Code section 12236, is to consolidate information resources and provide local government with a single source for archival and records management support and guidance.

Section 34090 of the California Government code provides for the destruction, with certain exceptions, of any city record, document, instrument, book, paper, etc., without making a copy, after the same is no longer required, if done with the approval of the City Council by resolution and the written consent of the department director, city clerk and city attorney. Retention of records is not required for non-record copies, preliminary drafts, or notes which are not retained by the city in the ordinary course of business.

The first step in records management is a records inventory. Agencies need to know what records they have, where the records are kept, the volume and how the records are used.

Q. What is the criteria for destruction of records?

A. The law requires that no record shall be destroyed or otherwise disposed of by any department of the city unless it is deemed that the record has no further administrative, legal or fiscal value and that the city manager or her designee has deemed that the record is inappropriate for historical preservation.

Q. Are there different laws and regulations concerning public records based upon the type of record?

A. Yes. The following govern the schedules for different types of records: Code of Civil Procedure; Government Code; Penal Code; California Code of Regulations; Revenue & Taxation Code; Health & Safety Code; Code of Federal Regulations; United States Code EC Elections Code; California Labor Code.

Q. How long do public records need to be kept?

A. That depends upon the type of the record. Most records need only be kept two years, some permanently. For instance: Police - Administration Investigations Administrative/Internal Administrative reviews initiated by citizen complaints or internally initiated; includes complaints, reports, findings, administrative reviews regarding use of force, etc.: PC 832.5, EVC 1045, PC 801.5:  Until closed + 5 years.

Audit Reports Financial Services, internal and/or external reports: GC 34090, CCP 337, CCP 343: Current + 4 years. Sec. of State Guidelines recommends permanent retention.

Q. Can the public get access to these records?

A. The California Public Records Act (the PRA) was enacted in 1968 to provide public access to most records. The PRA was strengthened by two voter approved propositions: 59 and 42. These rights include on-site inspection of records and obtaining copies. In Long Beach, the link to the Public Records information is at: http://www.longbeach.gov/citymanager/public-records-requests/

Q. Are emails and text messages of elected officials considered public records, even if they made them on their personal computer or cellphone.

A. As the city website reminds, on March 2, 2017, a unanimous California Supreme Court ruled that written communications that primarily involve government business made by public officials through private accounts or on private devices are public records under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). The ruling applies to all elected officials and employees of a public agency such as the city.

gerrie@beachcomber.news

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