City to develop records policy

The city of Port Orchard is looking to streamline its recordkeeping and instruct personnel as to what needs to be retained or thrown away in order to increase public access and prevent a potential lawsuit.

“If we had the money, the best strategy would be to pay a consultant $10,000 to set out procedures for our staff,” said City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick. “We don’t have those resources, so we will need to do it ourselves. And that will take a little longer.”

Kirkpatrick said the action was not intended to head off a specific legal action, and that she was not aware of any potential records management case that would cause the city a problem. Instead, the implementation of the policy is intended to protect the city in the future and prevent such cases from occurring.

“Right now, if I need to recover an e-mail going back more than a few months it is very difficult to do,” she said.

Under the law, some documents need to be retained for six years before they can be deleted.

Kirpatrick presented the idea to the City Council at its January 12 meeting, at which time she said the policy would take about a year to implement.

“The success of a policy comes down to the end user,” Kirkpatrick said. “We need to educate each employee about records management, and put a policy in effect that tells them what they need to be doing on a day to day basis.”

At the same time, the new policy needs to leverage what is already in use and the city “doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel” according to Kirkpatrick.

Along with e-mail maintenance the city needs to develop a more efficient back-up strategy. Currently, most of the data is backed up to tape, which is inefficient and degrades--even if it usually lasts well beyond the legal requirements.

Still, any system needs to have “forward compatibility,” the assurance that the data will be readable by any program the city purchases in the future.

“Many years ago government used WordPerfect for their documents,” Kirkpatrick said. “After the software was upgraded you could not read any of the documents that were created during that time. If we put in a new system we need to make sure that we can continue to read and retrieve the data that is generated.”

Over the past several years Port Orchard has paid for equipment and services through grant money, but Kirkpatrick said that no applicable grants are available.

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