How Far Back?

When I was a child in the 1970’s, long before the days of the Wikipedia, multi-player online gaming, NetFlix, or even Google and Facebook, instead of spending too much time watching syndicated Brady Bunch reruns after school, I spent time with my grandmother listening to her tell stories.

My grandmother was born in 1907. Her father was born ten years after the Civil War concluded, but before Reconstruction even thought about giving way. Her grandfather was named after a famous French Revolutionary war general who was an ally to the rebellious colonists in the battle for American Independence. And his grandfather (her Great-great) had fought alongside that famous French general in multiple battles from Charleston (against Cornwallis) to Yorktown; his name was Lafayette. (Go ahead, Google him.)

My grandmother was a student of early American history (among being a student of many things.) She made the past come alive for me through her stories and her indirect “education”. She wanted to instill in me a sense of who I am and who and where I came from. But instead of beating me over the head with a textbook, instead she turned it into a game.

Almost everyone has heard of the old college drinking game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. The premise of the game is to come up with some random Hollywood actor/personality, and then in less than six connections, link that person to Kevin Bacon.
It goes something like this:

Choose a random Hollywood Actor who you would think has never had any connection Kevin Bacon; for instance:

1] Dame Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith was in “Curtain Call” in 1998,

2] With Frank Whaley,
who was in “JFK”, in 1991,

with Kevin Bacon.

That’s just TWO degrees of separation between one of the most lauded, awarded, British screen and stage actors, and one of the most ubiquitous brat pack character actors, whose career (mostly) came and went in the 1980’s.

Before Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was ever conceived, actually, before Kevin Bacon was even a teen idol gracing the pull-out centerfold of Tiger Beat magazine (yes, he did, and I had a few of them), my grandmother conceived a similar game based on our familial connections to essentially every major event in American or post-Reformation English history.

She called the game “How Far Back?” and how it was played was simple; I would name an event in history, or a person in history, and then she would – with me – trace our ancestral connection to that person, place or event. The goal was to make a clear known connection that was substantiated and recorded in the histories, rather than just surmising and going for “wishful thinking”.

Sometimes we’d spend days trying to establish the connection. Some day’s we couldn’t because she didn’t have access to the tools we take for granted today. But most of the time she could piece together the connections in her head and spit them out to me in moments, usually requiring a spare piece of paper to diagram the connections so I could see them with dates and names and geographical locations.

The world of the past was a far smaller world than the one we know today. Everyone knew everyone in a manner of speaking, and a lot of “the everyone’s” were blood kin. The connections were easier to make than they are today in an era when we don’t keep up with family and we care less about history (to our detriment.)

We’re all still just as related as we were then (say three hundred years ago), we just don’t know it. We’re too distracted by NetFlix, multi-player online gaming, and who got killed off on the Good Wife on Tee-Vee. Tragic.

So here was one of my favorite connections from “How Far Back?””

Thomas Harriot; the famed, post-Renaissance ethnographer, linguist, scientist, and astronomer who was indispensable in helping Galileo get his telescopes and star charts in order…

1] Harriot served under the patronage of Sir Walter Raleigh,

2] who, after the failure of the Lost Colony at Manteo, clandestinely advised the Virginia Company and specifically Captain John Smith on how to prepare for a second attempt at colonization in the Chesapeake region.

3] Captain Smith, upon landing in Chesapeake, selected “ten worthy men” to explore the interior of Virginia with him. Those men were the only ones who survived the “starving times” at Jamestown, the Indian massacres, and the infighting the nearly killed the new colony. One of those men was Robert Beheathland. Beheathland was one of only two original colonists who survived to have descendants in the New World.

4] Robert Beheathland’s daughter, Dorothy, married a man named Randall Crew (whose descendants were implicated in Bacon’s Rebellion, BTW – as a proud aside.) Dorothy and Randall are my 11th generation great-grandfather and great-grandmother.

And so you see, “How Far Back?” can take you places you may never have imagined. In my family’s case, it takes us all the way back to the original founding of the nation that would become the USA, to First Contact with the Powhatan Nation, and to the reorganizing of the entire world map, and world political view.

Through that connection my blood kin touch Elizabeth I, and even King Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scots, Frances Bacon, Sir Walsingham (bastard!) and the greatest minds and players of the age. It might be stretch but if I worked at it, I suspect I could directly connect Shakespeare himself into this mix, which might be fun.

It’s a great game. And it helps me explain why my family is so complicated and mixed up and obsessive. We have a very long history.

But then so does every family – if they bothered to figure out their own connections.

While this may seem boring trivia to most folks, I promise, it makes great cocktail party banter and goes a long way towards explaining why half the books in my library have a strange, Medieval looking bookplate with a Griffon on it and the phrase “Truth Against the World” as its motto.

My grandmother died in 1990. I’ve had no one to play “How Far Back?” with since. Anyone game?


Just Finished Drafting the Final Chapter of the Book!

The only known photo of William Ellis Jones, II. If you know of another, please contact me!

The only known photo of William Ellis Jones, II. If you know of another, please contact me!

As some of you may have noticed, I have been very quiet. That’s because I have been very busy.

Tonight I finished the last sentence of the last chapter of “The Book”; the Biography and Civil war Diary of my g-g-g-grandfather, William Ellis Jones, II. The book is going to be called “The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect”, which is an homage to a line in William’s Civil War Diary, and (I think at least) a perfect metaphor for the mythology of the Lost Cause.

There is much more work to do. I have to complete the footnotes, finish two Appendices, write an Acknowledgements page, and go through the thing with a fine tooth comb for style, grammar, etc. – but it’s damn close.

Monday morning I begin searching in earnest for publishers.

I am so happy, and so proud of this accomplishment (I started working on this project in 2006), that I could just dance a jig and then spit!


In Defense of the North Carolina Archives and Their Role in the Franklin County Records Destruction Debacle

I have written a great deal about what happened in Franklin County on December 6, 2013. And I’ve stated some opinions (all my own) about the possible motivations, involvement of the myriad individuals, and the outcomes.

I’ve had a bit of fun at the expense of the Franklin County board and Angela Harris (Franklin County Manager), in particular – at whose feet I lay (about) 95% of the blame.

I’ve questioned the logic of the folks at the North Carolina Archives, for advising (strongly) the destruction of these records, without first undertaking a thorough investigation of what was in that basement, and for advising (in uber-strong language) that the records should not be given over to the Historical Society – since the NC Archives saw no value in them.

And, in my last post, I’ve had hearty belly-laugh at the time, expense, and general “head-space” this whole debacle has taken up at the archives. I still shake my head that these folks are so unbelievably unprepared and inept at handling a small (very small) crisis of this nature.

That said, the folks at NC Archives are not social media experts. Neither should they be. They are – for the most part – doing yeoman’s work in a field that makes most people yawn. I think their work is important, horribly underpaid, and badly understood – most notably by people like me.

I regret that their time has been taken up in dealing with this issue. In a more perfect world, their staff would have thought twice before writing the documents that I have called into question. In a better world they would have advised Patricia Chastain and the County Board to “do as they pleased”. In a better world – everyone would have communicated with and cooperated with everyone else thoroughly and respectfully.

Unfortunately we do not live in a better world.

All that said, I want to be clear. The NC Archives DID NOT DESTROY these documents. That was done at the Franklin County level – on an order given by Franklin County Manager, Angela Harris.

I’m done with this issue. The Historical Society can take it from here. The good people of Franklin County deserve better representation than the likes of Angela Harris and the Keystone Board that represent them – but I’m not their PR firm or their lobbying organization. I’ve done what I could to get the word out… My work is done.


Your Tax Money At Work!! Franklin County Records Destruction Debacle Continues at the NC Archives

It’s so rare that I actually get to see the machinations of the sausage factory at work – but tonight – we have a great, front row seat to the grinder, grinding away.

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B0GykIN45fqFTTdWczVvZkRRTzQ&usp=sharing

Apparently the folks at the North Carolina Archives are so discombobulated by the intensity of the reaction to their involvement in the wonton and pointless destruction of 150 year-old historical documents in Franklin County, North Carolina, that they put a staffer on the job of collecting, organizing and redistributing all the internet response (all they could find, given their sad skillset) back into their organization.

PLUS (and here’s where it gets REALLY fun), the document collection contains a few choice internal memos between staff, describing how they want to deal with the PR crisis, referencing their Public Relations firm (hired at how much per hour to troll Facebook and blogs and post positive comments in support of the NC Archives?)

I used to work in PR. We paid $400 per hour to do troll work like the troll work described and catalogued here. It was a cheap rate. I guarantee you that the NC Archives isn’t paying a cheap rate.

There are a TON of documents in this cache that detail their very “purposeful” response to the PR crisis. I started downloading docs as soon as I found the link, and I have to tell you – some of the materials are damned entertaining (lot’s of atta-boying and cross-agency support – plus a good view into who supports the NCArchives, no matter what… NCGS, are you listening?)

Enjoy the link folks. I promise you that if these people have one lick of sense between them – the link will be dead by tomorrow.

Talk about a lapse in SECURITY!!! Google Docs? Are You Kidding Me????

If the link goes bad, I’ll post some of the more choice documents with (my always acerbic) commentary. So HOPE the links goes bad!


The Greatest Epic Failure

creole-bitters1

The Bitter Truth is Often Sweet to Swallow!

A month or so back I signed up, via Coursera, to take a 10 week long class at the University of Pennsylvania on the “History of the Slave South”. Since this is one of my favorite subjects of study – a passion, no less – I’ve been anxiously awaiting the start of the class. It began today and I was absolutely astonished to find that there are people from all over the world taking this course. Folks from Australia, New Zealand, German, Spain, and England all enrolled in class dealing exclusively with the unique flavor of slavery that flourished in the Southern Colonies (and later States) of North America. Fascinating!

Today I completed my first assignment; write a brief piece in response to the question, “How was your nation or region shaped by the slave trade?

Here’s my response:

CH Jones – Resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.A. / Native of Southside Virginia, Nottoway & Roanoke River Valley Region.

My home region was not only shaped by the Transatlantic slave trade, it was and in many respects, still is, completely defined by antebellum slavery – socially, politically, economically, and culturally. Volumes have been written – with many more yet to be written – about the specifics of economics and historical impact on the region. In regards to social and cultural impact, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

In the latter part of the 18th century and early 19th century, issues of race and class distinction began to take on great significance in Virginia and North Carolina. In this period there emerged a great fear of “free” blacks – often highly skilled, moderately well educated, and surprisingly autonomous in their physical as well as social movement – “mixing with” and exciting the upward ambitions of both enslaved blacks and lower class (often indentured, or nearly so)  whites.

Upper class whites; those who most directly benefitted from a hardened, legally legitimized institution of slavery, in combination with a rigid, near-feudal caste system which kept most whites equally outside the civil and economic sphere of decision making and economic power, saw themselves as a “pure” and superior race who were destined by God to rule. They saw the mixing of races and the aspirations of lower class whites as a direct threat to their divinely ordained place at the top of society.

And yet, despite myriad laws and regulations passed throughout the 18th and 19th centuries to separate both races, classes, and even sexes, despite sophisticated “divide and conquer” psychologies used to pit poor-whites against free and enslaved blacks, despite entrenched religious justifications used to perpetuate slavery and the social caste status-quo – the “aristocracy” of the south failed to maintain and perpetuate a stratified society in which silos of race, gender, and class coexisted, separately.

Their failure is evident in every respect of the “southern antebellum” culture that arose in the 19th century, matured in the years immediately before and after the Civil War, went underground during the closing decades of Reconstruction, and then began to openly flourish beginning in the years immediately following WWI – and which thrives today openly and unapologetically, despite the lack of self-awareness of many of its most enthusiastic practitioners and beneficiaries – or its most ardent opponents.

I am a white descendant of Planation owning slaveholders. This morning my alarm clock shook me awake to the sound of Aretha Franklin belting out her now famous, and hardly demurring “Respect”; a song which, at every level, flies in the face of what the upper class, white, male social engineers of 18th and 19th century Virginia attempted to institutionalize.

When I arose from bed I showered – alone. There was no servant there to bath me, dress me, or do my hair. In fact my hair requires very little “doing”, as I wear it very short – much like the female slaves of the 19th century were required to do, as their masters found African hair unruly and offensive. So I find my own hair when it gets too long. I crop it close.

My clothing includes indigo blue dyed denim jeans (indigo being a hugely profitable crop in the plantation south, it’s cultivation, production, and application imported to the Colonies by slaves in the 19th century) – not silk or lace or taffeta. I wear flat soled work boots – not slippers or heels. I make my own coffee and I take out my own garbage.

The language I use is infused with regionalisms informed by generation upon generation of exchange between white and black and mixed race neighbors. For breakfast I’ll “crack a guinnea into my pone” (eggs & grits.) For dinner I will “cook up a mess of collards.” When I go to work I won’t leave until “I’ve hoed to the end of the row.” When I get in trouble I’m “in the stripes” (a reference to flogging or whipping.) When I’m almost done with a monolithic task, I’m, “working the short rows.” When I’m unexpectedly fortunate, I’m “shittin’ in high cotton.”

When I head out for an evening’s entertainment in Raleigh, I’ll likely venture downtown to the City Market area. There, surrounded by street musicians of every color and creed, I’ll hear strains of blues, reggae, “beach music” (a unique North/South Carolina blend of African inspired blues combined with country “dance” music), rap and hip-hop, all played out in the open air on cobbled sidewalks and streets that once hosted the weekly slave market auctions, held in this place, more than one hundred years before I was born.

Depending upon my mood, I can step into any number of restaurants offering Caribbean fare, soul-food, or low-country Creole. Inside these establishments patrons – black, white, Latino, and otherwise – mix and comingle without the least awareness of the “failed” culture in which they live.

They eat, sleep, dance, and make love together. They work side by side. They love and hate one another with undifferentiated passion – rarely based on skin color or even class – usually having to do with more common human complaints of ambition, desire, and greed.

Meanwhile, a mixed race man of half-African, continental descent sits in the “White House” (which was built entirely by slaves), and contemplates how to heal a deeply divided, racist nation that can’t seem to work through its racist history. Despite his concerns, the movie “12 Years a Slave” sits poised to sweep the academy awards, demonstrating that America may finally be paying attention to its past, after all.

The culture that thrives in my community demonstrates that Virginia, the South, and the nation as a whole – despite its many successes and social, civil advances – is the Greatest Epic Failure in the history of the western world.

Thank God.


More Outrages Emerge from the Already Outrageous Franklin County Records Destruction Debacle

Angela Harris - Criminal Contempt

Angela Harris – Found Guilty of Criminal Contempt

By now all readers of this blog are at least somewhat familiar with the Franklin County Records Destruction saga – which is still a developing story with more details and an ever lengthening paper trail.

For anyone who needs a recap, you can catch up here: More Details on the Franklin Co., NC Records Destruction

And here: Franklin County Hot Potato Toss – New Developments

And here: Franklin County Documents Destruction – Franklin Times Reblog

See all my posts on the subject at the following Tags: “Franklin County” (and don’t forget to hit the link, “older posts”, when you reach the bottom of the page.)

Since the destruction of the records in Franklin County, the story has gone viral. I’ve been blogging it since December. On my blog alone I’ve logged more than 250,000 unique visitors to the pages dedicated to this story. This, on a little, homespun weblog that previously has not seen more than 65 visitors in a single day. During the peak of this story, my blog hosted 100,000 unique visitors in a single day. These statistics prove that this is a very BIG story, not just in North Carolina. Not just in the United States – but internationally. I can only imagine what other, more established web sites are seeing in terms of visits and page-views. It must be staggering.

And yet, the folks at the NC Archives, the County Manager and Board of Commissioners in Franklin County, North Carolina can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls that what happened on that Friday night in December has OUTRAGED millions of people all over the world.

In January, at the last meeting of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, the community showed up and simply lambasted the board and County Manager Angela Harris. (See a video of a portion of the meeting here.) Members of the community demanded an explanation. They demanded an apology. They demanded Ms. Harris’s resignation. What they got was a whole lot of nothing.

Ms. Harris stated at that meeting that she would draft a written response to the questions posed to her.

A written response!? After months of stonewalling and silence and buck-passing and obfuscation!? After unilaterally making the decision to incinerate 150 years’ worth of historical material!?

Are you kidding me??????!!!!!! How about a written resignation?????

And so… Ms. Angela Harris finally speaks. It took her more than a week after that meeting to draft the following “response”. Almost two months after choosing to burn books and documents that many in the community were ready, willing, and able to save, preserve, and make available to research.

I will say this about her “written response”. I have not seen a sadder example of arrogance, in combination with willful ignorance, in combination with near-criminal incompetence, demonstrated in public since the Gulf Coast/BP Oil spill, when former BP CEO Tony Hayward offered up the following; “The first thing to say is I’m sorry.” And then he continued, “What the hell did we do to deserve this?”

Angela Harris seems to be taking her political/damage control cues from the Tony Hayward School of Arrogant Executive Mis-Management. Except she didn’t even offer up the insincere, perfunctory apology!!!!

In the coming days, after my head ceases hurting from looking at this gigantic PIECE OF BULLSHIT, I will craft a suitable “written response” to her “written response”. I promise, it will be a choice piece of prose.

If you can read the following from the pen of Angela Harris without your head exploding – by all means – DIVE IN!

The original of this statement appeared at Franklin County News Online, on January 16, 2014. (http://fcnonews.blogspot.com/2014/01/county-manager-angela-l-harris-letter.html)

“After careful consideration and reflection of the chain of events that led to the disposal of county and state records on December 06, 2013, and with great concern for the citizens of Franklin County who have experienced disappointment over this matter, I am providing the following summary.

Early in her tenure (exact date uncertain,) newly appointed Clerk of Court, Patricia Chastain visited the County Administration Building and stopped by Chuck Murray’s office (Director of Finance and General Administration) where Mr. Murray and I were meeting. The Clerk of Court, Ms. Chastain made reference to North Carolina Archives wanting to come to Franklin County, but she was “trying to hold them off” (I believe was her statement) until Heritage Society members could go through documents stored in the basement. The basis of her concern was that Archives would take certain items and leave others behind. I expressed on this date and a number of times thereafter that I would recommend seeking the guidance of Archives and fully disclosing the goal of maintaining records (or copies) locally. (Note: I would later learn that officials from Archives had proposed to the Clerk of Court the dates of June 10, 12 or 13 for a visit and initial survey; alternate dates were the week of June 17 and June 24.) The Clerk of Court indicated she would have Heritage members sign a confidentiality statement. I expressed concern that individuals unrelated to the court would be going through her files and advised her to seek guidance on this matter.

Note: Later, the question was raised about the County Attorney drafting a statement for the volunteers. The County Attorney and I discussed and agreed this was the Clerk’s matter; therefore, I advised the Clerk of the importance of her seeking appropriate guidance from her superiors.

The Clerk of Court inquired of county staff about the availability of space so that Heritage Members could work on sorting documents. I am uncertain of the exact date she began to inquire about this. Again, I proposed she seek guidance within her system about the project. Space was identified and on August 05, 2013, the Board of Commissioners supported paying utilities for a period up to six months. Utilities were turned on August 08, 2013 (cut off on November 04, 2013) at the space identified.

On August 14, 2013 Mr. Murray emailed Register of Deeds Brandi Davis “I think it would be smart to tell Heritage Society not to touch any of the ROD’s records until you guys have a chance to go through them.” He advised me he was concerned about confidentiality.

In meeting on August 14, 2013 a local citizen made me aware she had been in the basement with Ms. Diane Taylor Torrent from the Heritage Society. She expressed she was surprised Ms. Torrent had a key to the basement since she was not an employee (court or County). I had concerns regarding confidentiality of the County records and followed up with the Clerk of Court the next day. Some of these records were confidential and should not be handled by unauthorized personnel.

On August 15, 2013 the Register of Deeds emailed the Clerk of Court advising she and the Finance Director visited the basement on August 12, 2013 to see what records were in the basement or had been removed. In her email she advised she had contacted Archives for assistance. She advised the Clerk of Court in her email that Tom Vincent with Archives had informed her that ‘until Archives gave final approval, the Heritage Society should not have access to these records.’ Ms. Davis advised the Clerk of Court the Heritage Society should be “put on hold.” Ms. Davis was attempting to schedule a time for Archives to assist her with her records. Ms. Davis later advised me Mr. Vincent had not heard back from the Clerk of Court in reference to scheduling a visit to the County.

Note: Prior to this date, Ms. Davis understood there were no Register of Deeds records in the basement. Ms. Davis possessed two postcards with information regarding items that had been shredded in 2000. On the bottom of one postcard was the statement “NOTHING IS STORED IN OLD COURTHOUSE NOW.” Other information on the postcards read “DESTROYED AMENDMENT APPLICATIONS AND DELAYED BIRTH CERTIFICATE APPLICATIONS FROM 1968 thru 1994. BY SHREDDING IN JULY 2000.” Additionally, one card stated “Destroyed Financing Statement index Books (4) from 1982-1991 A-Z which were stored. Another statement read “Destroyed Marriage License Stubs from 1962 thru 1994.”

Later in the day, on August 15, 2013 I met with the Clerk of Court to discuss my concerns, one of which was confidentiality of certain records. On this date, I also discussed the State issued Record Retention and Disposition policy. Mr. Murray later emailed retention guidelines to the Clerk of Court and Ms. Torrent. I was aware Archives had attempted contact with the Clerk of Court in order to arrange a site visit. I urged Ms. Chastain to contact Archives and schedule the visit and later that day she did.

The Clerk of Court emailed Tom Vincent (Local Records Supervisor- Records Analysis Unit with NC Department of Cultural Resources) regarding Franklin County Archival Records. In her email she wrote, “I am finally settling in and getting back to this matter” in response to her original contact of May 29, 2013 setting up a potential meeting in June, 2013.

On August 21, 2013 Mr. Vincent and Carie Chesarino (Records Analyst) examined the basement of the Franklin County Courthouse. The follow up report indicated “the records in the storage room are in extremely bad condition.” A copy of their preliminary findings is available in the Manager’s office. The conclusion section of the report stated “the amount of dirt and mold in the storeroom make it hazardous for anyone to spend any amount of time in there.”

On August 22, 2013 Mr. Vincent followed up via email with the Ms. Davis regarding giving the delayed birth applications to the Heritage Society. He stated “I’m really uncomfortable with official copies of anything having to do with vital records being outside of government custody.” He went on to reference GS 130A-93(b) and advised “the retention period for the delayed birth applications is only 1 year, so you can get rid of those.”

On September 20, 2013, Ms. Davis emailed Becky McGee-Lankford (Manager, Government Records Section, Assistant State Records Administrator) regarding “delayed birth certificates and a trash bag of health certificates that used to be used to obtain a marriage license years ago.” She sought guidance regarding their destruction. On October 01, 2013 Ms. McGee-Lankford responded with instructions for destruction and/or retention. Note: Marriage Health Certificates contained “certificates from a regularly licensed physician stating that no evidence of venereal disease, tuberculosis in the infectious or communicable state, or mental incompetence was found in the applicants.” This information is confidential.

On the evening of October 01, 2013, I noted the Clerk and Ms. Torrent were standing outside of the basement area. They stated they had been working on an inventory for Archives. I stated to the Clerk of Court that while the preliminary report from Archives did reference an inventory, it was my understanding we were to “cease and desist” until a representative from health and safety with the Administrative Office of the Courts made a site visit. The Clerk stated her guidance was to do an inventory. My understanding was Archives had initially stated “if” an inventory existed, they wanted a copy; however, the Health and Safety Inspector would be making a site visit and further activity should cease in the interim. I advised the Clerk of Court she may want to follow up on this issue rather than continuing to be in the basement.

On October 11, 2013 the Clerk of Court forwarded a copy of an inventory to Mr. Vincent (NC Archives) and copied Ms. Chesarino (Records Analyst) and Ms. Torrent (Heritage Society member). Ms. Chesarino forwarded a copy to Ms. Davis who in turn provided me a copy.

On October 18, 2013 Ms. Chesarino emailed Ms. Davis in reference to 3 Register of Deeds Fee Book Ledgers – 1940’s, Numerous Blank Real Estate Ledgers. In Ms. Chesarino’s email she stated, although these records should be destroyed, it is my opinion that the space is unsafe. Sarah West is an environmental health inspector at the Administrative Office of the Courts. She has an appointment to inspect the basement at 9 a.m. on Monday 10/21. I will accompany her on this visit. While we’re there, she could give you advice on the logistics for safe disposal of the remaining Register of Deeds records.”

On October 29, 2013 Ms. McGee-Lankford (Government Records…NC Archives) emailed the following reports, copies of which are on file in the Office of County Manager:

(1) preliminary report from the 08/21/13 visit by NC Archives

(2) records inventory provided by the Clerk of Court

(3) report completed by Safety and Health Specialist, Sarah West with NC Administrative of the Courts

(4) letter from Ms. McGee-Lankford. In Ms. Mcgee-Lankford’s email she writes “Based on the inventory provided by the Clerk of Superior Court (see attached) and notes taken by Division of Archives and Records staff (see attached), as well as the environmental assessment provided by Sarah C. West of the Administrative Office of the Courts (see attached),” it is the recommendation of the State Archives of North Carolina that all records listed above be destroyed using proper protocol. The letter grants each of you authorizations to destroy the records in the custody of your office. We urge you to take immediate action to destroy these records. No other disposition is advised, including the donation of the records to a non-government entity for any reason. The health and safety issue concerning these records outweighs all other considerations. Ms. West does an excellent job detailing these health and safety concerns in her report.”

Ms. McGee-Lankford reiterated the above and adds in her letter, “The State Archives would have taken some of these records in accordance with established disposition instructions. However, due to the ongoing health and safety issues these records pose to the staff and general public that have access to them, we are requesting that these records be destroyed by the county office responsible for the records. The Clerk of Court will need to seek permission from Sean Bunn at NCAOC to destroy, in addition to the permission to destroy we are granting in this letter. Please prepare an appropriate written Request for Destruction of Records Form AOC-A-119 to be faxed . . .” Further Ms. McGee-Lankford writes “These records should be destroyed as soon as possible per North Carolina Administrative Code, Title 7, Subchapter M, Section .0510:”

a) burned, unless prohibited by local ordinance

b) shredded, or torn up so as to destroy the record content of the documents or material concerned

c) placed in acid vats so as to reduce the paper to pulp and to terminate the existence of the documents or materials concerned

d) buried under such conditions that the record nature of the documents or materials will be terminated

e) sold as waste paper, provided that the purchaser agrees in writing that the documents or materials concerned will not be resold as documents or records

Ms. McGee-Lankford stated “due to the health risk presented by the records in question, it is recommended that great care be taken in disposing of these records in order to prevent the further spread of mold spores.” Further she stated, “ Our agency does not typically authorize the destruction of records scheduled to come to the State Archives, however, due to the health and safety issues expressed during our initial meeting with county officials (see attached report) and Mrs. West’s report (see attached report) detailing the mold hazard present on and around these records, we are authorizing the destruction of all of the records listed above. Ms. West states in her report ‘I feel that the more these records are disturbed the more the toxins become airborne.”

On October 30, 2013, I instructed Mr. Murray to have Glen Liles (Public Facilities Director) execute the recommendations of Sarah West (Health & Safety Inspector with Administrative Office of the Courts) regarding Courthouse needs.

On November 04, 2013 at a Board of Commissioners meeting, I reported on the status of the site visits made by State officials to Franklin County. I advised the Board of the need to immediately destroy the records due to environmental health concerns. The matter was discussed again with the Board on November 18, 2013. Reports from NC Archives and the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts were emailed to the Board of Commissioners on November 07, 2013.

On November 05, 2013 the Clerk of Court and I participated in a conference call with Ms. Chesarino from Archives. The purpose of the call was to receive specific guidance regarding certain records brought to my attention. The Clerk was provided instruction to photograph said items and Ms. Chesarino agreed to follow up upon receipt of information from the Clerk. On November 15, 2013 Ms. Chesarino emailed feedback concerning those documents to the County Manager and Clerk of Court. The feedback received stated “upon examining the photographs provided, it has been determined that the documents in question are not of administrative, legal, evidentiary, or historical value and should be destroyed along with the rest of the records that had been stored in the basement of the Franklin County Courthouse.”

During the conference call, it was also discussed an inventory was done by NC Archives in 1964. The Clerk of Court made reference to this inventory during our call. I was pleased to learn this had been done. Later that day, Ms. Chesarino emailed me relevant pages of a 1964 inventory of Franklin County official records which included the retention requirements for each category.

On November 15, 2013, the Clerk of Court completed AOC-A-119 “Request for Approval for Destruction of Records” which certified the records listed can be destroyed. She further certified the records had been microfilmed or scanned and were appropriate for destruction. The Administrative Office of the Courts approved the destruction request on November 21, 2013. The Clerk of Court provided me with a copy of the approved request for destruction in order that the County could destroy the Court records when County records were to be destroyed. Please see a copy of the attached approved request.

On November 25, 2013 Mr. Murray emailed the Clerk of Court to advise that a company had been identified to clean the basement and he wanted to make sure the following week was acceptable. On December 02, 2013 Mr. Murray emailed the Clerk of Court again in reference to cleaning the basement. His email read “Is it ok to clean the basement out this weekend?” The next day the Clerk of Court responded via email “Sure it is. I just need to know when and time so I can be here and have it open.”

On December 04, 2013 Mr. Liles emailed Mr. Murray to advise he had spoken with the Clerk of Court December 03, 2013 regarding the destruction of the documents. Mr. Liles indicated he informed the Clerk of Court of the time schedule and said she was “glad to know we were moving forward.”

On December 05, 2013, the Board of Commissioners were advised in an email that “Builder Services of North Carolina (Restoration Experts) would be removing and properly disposing of items (records) as well as cleaning the basement beginning the afternoon of December 06, 2013.” Note: Mr. Glen Liles worked this schedule out so as not to inconvenience the citizens since the area would be blocked off and would have caused parking/logistic problems. The project began around 4:00 p.m. and would last overnight and into the weekend.

On December 06, 2013 Builder Services began work on removing documents and other contaminated materials from the basement. The area was cleaned, tested and sealed. Ms. West, Health and Safety Inspector with the North Carolina Administrative Office of Courts, advised nothing else should be placed in this area after it was sealed. I reminded the Clerk of Court of this instruction due to the fact the area was not climate controlled and would become contaminated again. The Clerk of Court indicated it was her understanding it could again be used after it was sealed. I suggested she review the recommendation from Ms. West. In a later conversation, she stated she would not place any records in the basement.

Kevin Cherry, Phd, Deputy Secretary, Director Office of Archives and History wrote a letter to the editor of The Franklin Times responding to an earlier article in the paper concerning the destruction of County records. Mr. Cherry commented on the history (110 years) of the State Archives of NC, an agency “charged by statute with the management of all state and local government records created and retained during the normal course of business within North Carolina government offices.” Further, he pointed out that “established professional standards within the state and the archival field across the country” were utilized in reviewing/appraising the records. He pointed out the fact that many records were decades past their retention date, many documents were “duplicates, confidential, drafts, or duplicated in another records series that has been saved.” Additionally, it was noted Archives has over 1,066 microfilm reels of permanently valuable Franklin County records.

I hope these facts demonstrate the destruction of records was necessary in order to protect the health and safety of our citizens and staff. Access to confidential records would have posed additional liability issues for the County. In retrospect, I believe if arrangements had been made for the site visits proposed by Archives officials to the Clerk of Court on May 29, 2013, the final determination could have been made sooner and a great deal of confusion and disappointment would have been avoided.”


A Reader’s Excellent Letter to the Franklin County Board

A reader forwarded the following letter to me, with a request that I post it. I contacted the author – Pam Smith, of Manassas, Virginia – and was gratified to receive her permission to post it here. It’s an excellent letter and one that I believe we can all support.

Pam Smith’s Letter to the Franklin County Board of Commissioners


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