Athens County Considering Changes To Records Disposal Rules

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Athens County might be adopting a standard for public records disposal that is tougher than the state's.

County Commissioner Lenny Eliason, who is chairman of the Athens County Records Commission, mentioned it during Thursday's meeting of the records commission. At that meeting, the commission tabled revised records retention schedules submitted by Sheriff Patrick Kelly and other offices so that the schedules could be redone.

Eliason said that two years ago a change in state law eliminated the need to file what's called an RC-3 form every time a public official wants to destroy records. Offices are required to have a records retention schedule listing the lengths of time various records must be maintained and, until the change in the law, had to file an RC-3 at the time a specific record on the schedule was going to be destroyed.

The RC-3 serves to alert the local records commission of a pending records disposal, and provides the Ohio Historical Society an opportunity to require preservation of records of historical value. Under the changed law, the Ohio Historical Society designates on an office's records retention schedule which records require an RC-3, freeing the officeholder to dispose of other records according to the schedule without giving notice.

However, Eliason said the Athens County Records Commission may require RC-3 forms to be filed in every instance that an office wants to destroy records.

"I think that there is the general consensus (to do that)," Eliason said, explaining that requiring the RC-3 in all instances would provide documentation of when destruction of a record was planned. Otherwise, the records commission would have no way of knowing if an officeholder was following his or her record retention schedule.

Even though the law was changed, members of the records commission have said Kelly did not follow proper procedures in his recent disposal of records because he did not file RC-3 forms. The record retention schedule of the sheriff's office dates back to 2005, before the change in the law.

The sheriff's disposal of records in a landfill is believed to be one area of inquiry by an Athens County grand jury that has been meeting at the request of the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

At their May 28 meeting, the records commission asked Kelly to redo a revised record retention schedule he had submitted. County Auditor Jill Thompson, a member of the commission, had questioned parts of the revised schedule, including a provision saying the sheriff could dispose of records as soon as they are microfilmed if they have no evidentiary value.

A revised version of the records retention schedule considered at Thursday's meeting does not include that provision, but it was tabled — along with schedules submitted by Athens County Children Services, Athens City-County Health Department and county prosecutor.

The records commission wanted language clarifications and/or changes to make the schedules consistent with recommendations from the Ohio Historical Society regarding the length of time records must be maintained.

The records commission approved record retention schedules submitted by the county auditor, county recorder and county engineer, and will forward them to the historical society and state auditor for their approval.

Eliason said the records commission has asked offices to update their record retention schedules, a process that started at the beginning of the year. Some had not been updated since before the law was changed two years ago, he indicated.

Eliason said he would like to see the records commission set a specific frequency by which offices must update their records retention schedules.

Thompson suggested the commission consider hiring a consultant to review the retention schedules of the various offices to ensure all the required records are listed with the appropriate retention times.