Managing public records is one of the most important responsibilities of every city employee. But to many of us issues surrounding public records can at times seem daunting — “How long do I save that letter?” Do I have to keep this e-mail?” “Are these notes worth saving?” “How long do I have to fulfill that request?” “Where can I get help?”
“Records Roundup” will offer definitions, explanations and best practices for managing and retaining public records.Tips will be shared with employees in the employee newsletter and will be archived here for future reference.
What are Public Records?
Almost everything created or received during the course of regular business at the city is considered a public record.
State law defines public records as: “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, regardless of the physical form, characteristics, or means of transmission, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency."
Any material that is intended to perpetuate, communicate or formalize knowledge is a public record, regardless of whether it is in preliminary or final form.
- For example, the professional publication you subscribe to is not considered a public record. But, the draft analysis you prepared and circulated among staff for review and comment is a public record.
- Another example of formalizing knowledge would be a memo from a department director that outlines a new policy to be followed when requisitioning supplies.
Who is Responsible for Retaining a Public Record?
The answer depends on who sent the record and where the record came from.
The department or division that initiates a record is responsible for its retention no matter what the record is. For example:
- The City Clerk’s office prepares and sends a copy of City Council meeting minutes to various departments. The City Clerk’s office is responsible for the retention of the minutes – not the departments who received copies of the minutes.
- The PIO sends a copy of the employee newsletter to all staff. The PIO is responsible for retaining a record copy of the newsletter, not the individual staff members who receive it.
The department or division that is on the receiving end of a record from an outside source (another agency, a business, a citizen, etc.) must retain that record. For example:
- A citizen mails a letter of concern to city officials and copies the City Clerk’s office. The City Clerk’s office would be responsible for the retention of that letter.
- Utility Billing receives a letter in the mail containing a public records request. In this case, Utility Billing would be responsible for the retention of the letter.
In order to understand how to properly manage e-mails you will first need an understanding of how records are categorized.
Every public record created or received in the City of Melbourne falls into a record series. A record series a group of records that have the same subject or function, document a specific type of transaction, result from the same activity, or are related in some other manner.
The record series determines the minimum amount of time you are required to retain a record. The State of Florida publishes records schedules that cover all the functional work areas in the city, including general records that apply to all departments, law enforcement records, election records, fire department records and public utilities records. The City of Melbourne uses the records schedules posted on the Records Schedules webpage.
Examples of records series and retention periods include:
- The general records schedule assigns a retention period of three fiscal years for Series #17, correspondence and memoranda. In that same schedule, you’ll find records Series #289 for work schedules with a retention period of one fiscal year after obsolete or superseded.
- The public utilities schedule assigns a three-year retention for Series #29, quarterly fluoridation monitoring reports.
- The fire department schedule assigns a retention period of four years for daily blood pressure testing logs (Series #52).
It’s important to note that the series and retention period of a record are determined by the content of the record, not the format of the record. A series does not exist for “paper reports” or “PDF maps.”
The same applies to e-mails — the content of the e-mail determines its series and retention period. There is no single records series assigned to e-mails.
Example: E-mail With “Permanent” Retention Period
A planner in the Community Development Department sends an e-mail outlining a report related to an annexation request. The e-mail’s subject would be “Annexation Records, Series #247.” In the city’s general records schedule, you’ll find that the state has assigned a retention period of “permanent” to this series. At some point, the planner will need to print the e-mail/report and file it with the department file so that it is eventually scanned and retained permanently. In this example where the retention period is permanent, retaining the e-mail on the city’s e-mail system isn’t viable or practical.
Example: E-mail With Multi-year Retention Period
The Community Development Director uses e-mail to create a memo to employees establishing a new policy or process that should be followed when preparing annexation reports. The subject of the e-mail would fall under “Directives/Policies/Procedures, Series 186.” In the city’s general records schedule, you’ll find that the state has assigned a retention period of two anniversary years after the policy is superseded or becomes obsolete. In this example, the Community Development Director should keep the e-mail within a folder in Outlook.
Example: When Departments Have Different Retention Requirements
Departments have the ability to establish longer retention periods for records generated in their work areas. However, these longer retention periods do not bleed over into similar records created in other departments. Take for example a public records request for lien information. If the Code Compliance Director responds to this request, his e-mail would take on the one-year retention period of “Information Request Records, Series #23.” However, if the same request was fulfilled by someone in the Financial Services Department, the finance employee would have to retain the e-mail longer because the Director of Finance has established a retention period of two fiscal years for any lien searches conducted in Financial Services.
Many of the e-mails we send are transitory messages. A transitory message is created to communicate information of short-term value, such as an invitation to lunch, most telephone messages, announcements of office events, and the never-ending string of “thanks!” e-mails. As the sender or creator of the transitory message, you determine how long it is valuable to you. (Reminder: The person who initiates/creates the record internally — or the person on the receiving end of a record from an outside source — is responsible for its retention.)
Tips for Organizing and Saving E-mails
E-mails that are not transitory will take on the retention period of the record series based on the content of the e-mail. There are several ways to manage e-mails that are public records:
- Keep them in folders labeled by subject within Outlook. They can be created by year, subject, etc., depending on the type of records. Moving e-mails to specific folders will help keep your Inbox queue clear.
- Save e-mails as PDF documents within subject folders on the H: drive.
- Print e-mails and file them in corresponding files in your office.
Don’t Forget to Review Your Sent Log
Periodically weed through and sort the e-mails in your “sent” folder. It is often overlooked as part of e-mail management process, although it is the most important e-mail for you to maintain. Another technique is to blind-copy yourself so that all e-mails appear in your inbox.
You may delete transitory e-mails without authorization from the City Clerk’s Office.
You must obtain permission from the City Clerk’s Office before deleting any other e-mails:
- Contact your work area’s Records Coordinator before deleting any e-mails other than transitory messages. (Each work area has a designated Records Coordinator who works with the City Clerk’s Office on the proper storage or destruction of records. If you are unsure who your Records Coordinator is, please contact your supervisor or Department Director.)
- The Records Coordinator will guide you though the process of proper destruction/deletion of your expired e-mails by helping you complete the required transmittal form for review and approval by the City Clerk’s office.
- Your records coordinator can help you complete a “transmittal form" like the one below, which is used for the disposition of all records.
- If you’d like to build on your records knowledge, access the City of Melbourne Records Management Manual (Policy #204)
- Please contact the City Clerk at firstname.lastname@example.org or (321) 608-7220 if you have questions or if you need assistance.
- Have questions you’d like to see explained in Records Roundup? Send them to Cheryl Mall: Cheryl.email@example.com or (321) 608-7265 for inclusion in a future issue.