City Manager Patton, Mayor Wright, and Members of City Council:
If substantiated, the article in today’s edition of the Virginian-Pilot, “Portsmouth Has Been Shredding without Following State Law“, should be a matter of gravest concern to all of you, as well as to our citizenry. I, therefore, call upon you, Dr. Patton, to impose an immediate moratorium on document destruction until you can unequivocally deny the assertions made in the referenced article. Mr. Mayor and Members of Council, I ask you at your next meeting to establish a task force to review current policies on document handling and retention within the city for compliance with state code, particularly requirements of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, and for adherence to best practices for business continuation. I suggest that City Clerk Debra White be appointed as chair of the task force and that city staff and citizens with experience and expertise in this area be solicited as participants. With thirty years of professional background in banking and information technology, as well as academic training in the field of history, I also would be willing to serve as a citizen participant.
George Orwell wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Without adequate maintenance of public documents, we will have an inadequate understanding of our civic past, depriving us and our successors of essential tools for building a brighter future. We need to make civic decisions in the context of what has worked and what has not rather than starting from scratch each time. Please act “with all deliberate haste”.
[Late this afternoon I received the following response from City Manager Patton.]
Please be advised that over the past six months the city continues to work on record management including record retention, electronic storage, cataloging, record management by departments, and assigning and training record managers.
We are developing a robust policy to comply with the Commonwealth of Virginia, the federal government and other specific agencies’ requirements.
Currently, the city has in storage hundreds of boxes of records and laser fiche files. These records are not systematically organized nor are all records catalogued.
The city has two contracts with shredding companies and a recycling program. The contracts for shredding are used to destroy records that have confidential and personal information. Duplicate documents are recycled or shredded as appropriate in compliance with the Library of Virginia’s expiration of records law.
For nearly twenty years the city of Portsmouth has not had a centralized record keeping and retention program. We are working to develop this program and additional information and processes followed will be available as we continue to progress.