Chapter 4 TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter 6

Local Government Records


WSA’s Implementation of Statute

Creates an Open-Ended Obligation






WSA creates retention schedules and stores permanent records for local governments.

Although statutes are imprecise, WSA officials have implemented them as a directive to provide services to local governments and political subdivisions throughout the state.  We use the term “local governments” to include non-state agency governmental units, such as counties, municipalities, and school boards, as well as courts of all jurisdictions.  Primarily, WSA provides them the services of creating records retention schedules and accepting permanent records for storage in Archives South.  WSA does not store local governments’ non-permanent records, however.


 While scheduling local records is a manageable undertaking for WSA, storing the permanent records is potentially more problematic.  Currently, local government records represent two-thirds of the records stored in Archives South.  By accepting local government records for permanent storage, the state is assuming the costs of maintaining them forever.  However, WSA does not have the means to assist local governments in managing those records so they are as efficiently prepared as possible.  Further, as local governments move into electronic records, WSA may face greater costs in maintaining them.




Statutes Are Not Explicit About WSA Responsibilities for Local Records





WSA ensures that a record of the state government, its courts, and political subdivisions, is maintained.






WSA scheduling services allow local governments to legally dispose of their records.








Only WSA’s microfilming responsibilities for local governments are explicit in statute.










WSA has encouraged local governments to transfer their permanent records.


Statutes setting out the WSA responsibility for the records of the state’s political subdivisions are not clear.  WSA has traditionally interpreted its legal authority for the records of the state’s political subdivisions from W.S. 9-2-410, which states, “All records are the property of the state,” and that they shall be managed according to the statutes that describe WSA responsibilities.  For WSA, the intent of this law is to make sure that a record of the state government, its courts, and its political subdivisions is maintained for future generations.


Thus, while the statutes directing WSA’s specific responsibilities (W.S. 9-2-405 through W.S. 9-2-419) do not clearly indicate that they extend to all state political subdivisions, WSA has interpreted the all-encompassing W.S. 9-2-410 as doing so.  For example, statute directs WSA to arrange retention schedules for the records of all state departments and other agencies of state government.  In practice, WSA establishes record retention schedules for all political subdivisions, as well as for state government agencies.  This is beneficial because it allows local governments to legally dispose of their records according to schedules approved by the State Records Committee.


Similarly, the statutory directive to manage and preserve local government permanent records is not specific.  WSA has traditionally interpreted this from W.S. 9-2-407 (a).  It directs the state archivist to collect, arrange, and make available all records in his custody, including official records of the state and its political subdivisions.  However, this statute implies the same charge for records of the United States and foreign nations that are in the state archivist’s possession, which WSA does not store.


Only statutes dealing with microfilming explicitly establish responsibilities for WSA with respect to local governments.  W.S. 9-2-406(a)(vii)) clearly directs WSA to establish standards for microfilming with which all counties, municipalities and political subdivisions must comply.  Further, W.S. 9-2-413 requires that if political subdivisions microfilm records with the intent of disposing of the original copies, they must send master negatives to the WSA.


Local Governments Can Choose To Transfer Records.  Whether or not statutes direct WSA to take responsibility for storing local government permanent records, in many cases, WSA lets local governments make that choice for themselves.  WSA does this through the records scheduling process.  Some records schedules require transfer to the state archives, while others give local governments the choice of transferring their public records or retaining them permanently in their own facilities. 


WSA officials indicate that some local governments elect to keep their own permanent records, especially the older, more valuable ones.  Others elect to keep them for a time, and then transfer large volumes of records to the state all at once.  WSA has accepted local government records, and even encouraged their transfer, because it fears that many lack adequate storage facilities to maintain them properly.  WSA also stages an annual trip throughout the state to gather and transport the records that local governments want to transfer.


Most Permanent Records Originate

in Local Governments




County and district courts are the major permanent records contributors.






Special districts rarely transfer permanent records.

Most (66 percent) of the permanent records stored in Archives South are local government public records.  Records from county and district courts make up nearly half of the local government permanent records in Archives South.  Archives retains criminal case files and dockets from courts of every jurisdiction, as well as district court journals, probate records, and coroners’ inquests.  County clerks, municipalities, school districts, and publicly funded hospitals are other major record contributors.


More than 500 political subdivisions in the state could potentially request WSA services.  This includes courts of all state jurisdictions, county and municipality governments, school districts, and special districts.  However, the majority of these political subdivisions are special districts, which, if they transfer records at all, do so only in small amounts.  Figure 5 shows the distribution of local government records in the Archives permanent holdings.




Figure 5:  Local Government Permanent Records

Stored in Archives South

By Contributing Source



Source:  LSO analysis of WSA data.


The 20 publicly funded hospitals in the state transfer significant volumes of records.





Patient records are closed by statute and permanent by schedule


Hospital Districts Use WSA Storage Services.  Several special districts do, however, transfer significant volumes of records.  These are the publicly funded hospital districts in the state, of which there are twenty.  These districts’ storage requirements are representative of the local government obligation WSA meets.


Hospital records, mostly patient medical records, make up approximately eight percent of the permanent records stored in Archives South.  These records are permanent because they have been scheduled so, not because statute requires it.  However, statute closes these records to anyone other than to the patient to whom they pertain or the hospital that generated them. 


These records are scheduled for transfer to the state archives, or to be microfilmed and destroyed.  A few hospitals in the state microfilm their records, but most transfer them to WSA.  After investigating changing the schedule for these records, WSA found that hospitals in the state strongly resist any changes.




Improperly Prepared Local Government Records Impact WSA Resources






WSA must either cull the records, or store the unnecessary volume.













WSA may be setting a precedent to take responsibility for local governments’ electronic records.

WSA officials told us that local governments often transfer records to Archives South that are not permanent records.  They say this occurs because local governments lack the resources to cull unnecessary materials that have been mixed in with permanent records.  In addition, as noted in Chapter 3, WSA believes it lacks the resources to properly train local governments in records management techniques.  When WSA receives records that are poorly arranged or need culling, it must either assign its own staff to the time-consuming process, or store the unnecessary volume.


Potential for Even Greater Costs.  By choosing to take responsibility for local government permanent records, WSA sets a precedent for maintaining that responsibility when those records are moved to an electronic storage format.  As discussed in Chapter 2, the migration strategies necessary to make electronic records accessible far into the future represent an expense of unknown magnitude.  Now, WSA will not accept migration responsibilities for either state or local government electronic records.  Further, it tells local governments that permanent records cannot be scanned and stored on any electronic media unless the paper copies are retained or microfilmed.

However, local governments have indicated that they either are already storing or expect to store records electronically, including records that are currently scheduled as permanent.  If they cannot currently afford either their own storage or the personnel to cull paper records, we believe it is doubtful they will be able to afford the technology necessary to migrate these records in the future.  WSA will face either revising its interpretation of its statutory responsibilities to include only paper local government records, or accepting the migration responsibilities that go along with them.




Recommendation:  The Legislature should consider reviewing WSA’s statutory responsibility for local government records.






If WSA is to continue services to local governments, it needs to be able to affect the quality of their records.

Currently, the WSA interpretation results in open-ended costs to state government without the means to control them.  If the Legislature wants to reduce the services the state offers to local governments, it needs to revise the applicable statutes so that its intent is clear.  If, on the other hand, the Legislature wants to continue the current services to local governments, WSA needs resources to affect the quality of the records it must store forever.

Some states have increased filing fees paid to county officials to support archives and records management programs for local governments.  Others have instituted fees for services and put the money toward local government training programs.  Grant funds may also be available for short-term solutions, but training and records management assistance need to be on going to have the necessary impact.

[Top] [Back] [Home]