The following are some frequently asked questions (FAQ) about records management.
As an employee of a political subdivision your office is subject to laws regarding public records and transparency. Consequently, every office and every employee has the responsibility to demonstrate the proper care and management of records in their possession. That means:
- Keeping the record for the appropriate amount of time (the retention period)
- Keeping it in such a way that it is not damaged or destroyed
- Keeping it in such a way that it can be found and viewed
- Being able to produce copies in the event of litigation, audit, or public records request
- Disposing of the records promptly, in an appropriate manner, once the retention period has expired
Title 24 - Article 80 of the Colorado Revised Statutes provides for the preservation of permanent records and the destruction of records that are no longer of value to public agencies. The Colorado State Archives as the designee of the Executive Director of the Department of Personnel sets the policy for the preservation of records of enduring value and the destruction of records that are no longer of value. All State agencies and political subdivisions must consult periodically with the State Archives concerning the retention and disposition of their records. The State Archives does not provide retention guidance for records created and maintained by private entities or non-profit groups.
The Colorado Revised Statutes, C.R.S. 24-80-101(2), defines records as: "all books, papers, maps, photographs, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any governmental agency in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by the agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the government or because of the value of the official governmental data contained therein".
Yes, the Colorado Revised Statutes record definition states, "regardless of physical form or characteristics". Content, not medium, defines what a record is.
A records retention schedule is developed specifically for a public agency. It lists all records maintained by the agency and how long they need to be kept. The State Archivist and the State Auditor's Office sign the retention schedule. Some of the records need to be retained permanently, while others can be destroyed once they have exceeded the minimum retention period. The records retention schedule is a legal authorization to destroy records.
Retention periods are based on state and federal laws, rules, or regulations. If there isn't any legal guidance available, the retention period will be determined by factors such as:
- will there be a continuing need for these records for current business processes?
- are these records needed for future reference to document business process, decisions taken, or actions carried out?
- are these records needed to fulfill legislative, regulatory or financial requirements?
- are these records needed for accountability purposes?
Once a retention period has been determined the record series will be submitted to the state archivist and state auditor for approval.
Currently, the State Archives has the following Manuals posted on-line:
- State Agency Records Management Manual
- Municipal Record Retention Manual
- School District Records Management Manual
- Special Districts Records Management Manual
- County Record Management Manuals
The record series that you will find in these manuals (or general schedules) are common to every office no matter the size of you state agency, county, municipality, special district, or school district. If your office creates one or more record series that is not outlined in the specific records management manual an agency unique schedule will need to be created to establish a retention period for those records.
If you can't find a record series on a General Schedule it is because:
- the record is no longer being created;
- it needs to be added to the schedule;
- you might use a different name for this type of record.
Contact the Colorado State Archives and we will assist in finding the appropriate record series and retention guidance. 303-866-2358 or DPA_ArchivesRM@state.co.us
Yes, regardless if a particular record series is still being created or used the agency has the obligation of maintaining the records until the full retention period has been fulfilled.
Since records retention schedules are developed specifically for each entity, the State Archives does not automatically update them. Entities are responsible for notifying the State Archives as to what records on their schedules they no longer maintain and what records need to be added to their schedule.
You may, but you may place your office under additional audit and legal risk. If your office becomes the subject of litigation you can no longer destroy records that were previously eligible as now they are now termed "discoverable." Discoverable records may cause your office to incur additional legal cost and potential damaging evidence.
A local exception must be approved for you to retain something for a shorter time period that the manual specifies and is not required to keep something longer than the specified retention period. However, it is important to document internally that the office's policy is for a longer retention period.
The general retention schedules or your agency unique retention schedule is your legal authority to destroy records once the retention periods have been met. When the destruction process is done please fill out a Certificate of Records Disposal and send to the Colorado State Archives.
Yes, a destruction hold should be put in place on the relevant records if they are part of litigation, an audit or an open records request. Destruction of the records should not occur until resolution and the hold has been lifted. Only then can the records be destroyed according to the retention schedule.
It is important to create an audit trail for the records your office disposes of, regardless of whether they are shredded, recycled, deleted, or transferred to Colorado State Archives. We recommend each office maintain a disposition log documenting what records were destroyed, when, and according to what retention schedule number.
The retention of confidential records is no different than non-confidential records. Confidentiality only concerns access to the records. There are multiple laws in regards to confidentiality and privacy. You should work with legal counsel to determine what records have confidentiality privileges and then create a policy and procedure for access to those records.
Records with historical importance will be labeled as "Permanent" on the records retention schedule. Generally speaking, about five percent of records created will have that permanent designation. There may be occasions that arise when non-permanent records should be kept permanently due to extenuating circumstances. Contact the Colorado State Archives for help in making this determination.
Since the state defines a record as information regardless of physical form or characteristics, IM, tweets, texts and any other forms of written communication fall under retention requirements and are subject to public records requests. Because it is so difficult to capture these communications we strongly advise not using these forms of communication for official business. Emails are the preferred form of electronic communication.
Yes, it's fine to move from paper to electronic records. However, be aware that electronic records are governed by the same accessibility and retention requirements as paper records. When moving to electronic forms or designing a database you need to consider the retention period of the record and ensure it is accessible and readable for the full retention period. You must also ensure that it can be deleted or wiped at the end of the retention period.
The answer is yes. The Uniform Electronic Transaction Act (UETA) provides the framework for scanned documents to be accepted as the legal copy. For retention purposes UETA states that the electronic copy should "accurately reflect the information set forth in the record after it was first generated in its final form as an electronic record" and remains accessible for a later date. There are many "should I scan it" decision trees online to help an office decide if a potential scanning project is worth the resources.
For records with a retention period of ten years or longer a district may want to consider keeping the paper records after scanning and using the scans for reference. Consider consulting IT to ensure the scanned records in question will be able to comply with UETA.
Before proceeding on a scanning project we recommend that a scanning policy be created. The policy should incorporate the five following topics:
- Records Retention Requirements
- Technical Scanning Requirements
- Storage Location and Access
- Filing and Organization
- Preservation and Disposition
If you have any questions, please consult the Colorado State Archives.
Not everything created in the course of a business day constitutes being a record that needs be retained for an extended amount of time. Here is guidance that can help you identify items you can destroy when administrative use ends.
Currently, we provide trainings on an ad hoc basis. We do not have regularly scheduled training sessions. We can provide guidance on a variety of records management topics. 1-on-1 consultations are available.
We do have online training in development and hope to release this material in the summer of 2021.