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Could Your Records Management Process Be Putting Your Municipality and Staff at Risk?

Our 3rd Annual Municipal Clerks Survey found an alarming number of local governments are overlooking records management. With federal and state agencies drafting new open meeting and records legislation, local governments are putting themselves at risk of everything from the loss of public trust to a lawsuit by not proactively managing documents.

Here are 3 of the key findings:

  • 51% of local governments don’t have someone in place to coordinate and implement a records management process across their organization. This means crucial record management processes can be forgotten, and key documents lost. The result is that local governments are put at risk of a lawsuit or legal action should they be unable to provide information on request.

  • 80% of department heads don’t receive records management training.  This suggests that many key local government departments aren’t properly managing documents.  Training is necessary to understand complex legislation and retention schedules.

  • 79% of staff don’t receive training in records management. Four out of five employees aren’t aware of what constitutes proper records management processes. Oftentimes, this means important documents could be mishandled or destroyed.

So what are the laws with respect to records management?

Laws differ by region, but every state/province has laws in place that govern records responsibilities. Municipal governments must follow these for open meetings or risk serious consequences.

You could be liable if:

  • you can’t provide relevant information to citizens and the media upon request;

  • you are unable to produce supporting records that are required for pending or ongoing litigation; or,

  • you do not follow your state or locally defined retention schedule. Retention schedules are guidelines that set out how long you must keep a given document. While there are some types of documents that must be kept indefinitely, there are others that can be destroyed after a certain amount of time has passed.

The penalties for not complying with such guidelines vary regionally, but, those found responsible risk anything from dismissal to a lawsuit.  Of note, in many cases, the head of an organization or the person responsible the error can be held personally liable.  

Local governments Gamble by Using Paper-Based Records

In our last blog post, we discussed how the majority of organizations still manage their records on paper.  Aside from a lack of training and an understanding of the importance of record keeping, the reason that most local governments haven’t yet got on top of their records is pretty simple - time.  A paper-based records management system is time-consuming, diverting staff from their primary responsibilities within an organization. But, it is also a dangerous gamble.  

In a paper-based records system, the Clerk(s) responsible for records management rely on a system they’ve built over many years in the workplace. If and when they leave or retire, a lot of valuable institutional knowledge leaves with them. According to our most recent survey, 1 in 3 Clerks are due to retire over the next five years, so it’s about to become a very big problem for local governments if it hasn’t already.  

In contrast, an automated system can clearly define the role that different members of an organization play in managing records.  A streamlined workflow reduces duplication, and minimizes the time staff at different levels spend on records, while ensuring that retention schedules are properly managed and documents are easy to find. Having a formal system in place also allows a local government to retain this knowledge, maintain a workable system, train new staff and avoid losing information.  

How Can You Protect Your Local Government From Risk?

A critical first step that can be taken to protect your local government from legal liability is to understand if your current records management practices are putting your organization at risk.  With over 17 years of experience helping local government manage their records, iCompass is well positioned to help you understand regulations on records, transparency and meeting management.

We hold free personalized discovery sessions with local governments to discuss their records management processes and help them understand areas of risk.  If you are interested in learning more and booking a session, please click here.