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.
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.
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!
“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.”