Records management could see some relief

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By Jennifer Garcia

Finding a public record should be quite easy, assuming they are neatly organized and easily accessible. That however, is not the case for the County of Los Alamos.

Thousands of boxes stacked on top of each other fill the county’s annex warehouse. Inside, records dating back to the 1940s lay there, collecting dust. In addition, about one-third of those records have been recognized as past retention.

Records Administrator Barb Ricci, along with Assistant County Administrator Diana Stepan spoke to council on Tuesday night about the need to find an appropriate location to house the county records center. They also stressed the need for hiring staff to conduct the initial analysis and physical movement of the county’s records. In addition, a motion presented to council asked for a budget increase in the amount of $99,000 to cover the additional expenses involved in hiring suitable staff and obtaining the necessary supplies.

Ricci gave councilors a PowerPoint presentation, which included photos of the records storage area that showed boxes clearly piled high, while drawings and maps were rolled up and stored on top of file cabinets. One photo showed a shopping cart full of boxed up records.

“We need to really clean the annex up,” Ricci said. “Separating and cleaning will need to be done. There’s a lot of dust in there, so the records will also have to be cleaned. We have a lot of organization to do,” she continued.

Following the presentation, Council Chair Michael Wheeler told Ricci that the compelling part of her argument is to make records available to the public. Currently, the records system is in such disarray, that only staff members familiar with the records can find them easily.

“There’s a cost to put our house in order,” Stepan said. “People won’t spend so long in searching for a record.” She said they are asking that their staff be supplemented with temporary, casual employees, or with approved overtime for existing employees, who will go through the voluminous records and sort them out.

Councilor Robert Gibson was unconvinced of Ricci’s and Stepan’s assurances of more money and more employees making a difference. “We hear this frequently … give us money, give us employees and we’ll make it happen. It’s hard to find a direct benefit to the citizens,” he said.

“It’s a cost of running the county,” Stepan responded. “The benefit is that we can find records faster. It’s a cost we’re incurring right now in terms of inefficiency. We’re asking for council’s approval to continue looking (for an appropriate location) and come back to council for approval,” she explained.

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle said he doesn’t see the urgency in moving to another building right now, though Ricci’s statements would indicate that there is a sense of urgency.

During her presentation, Ricci said that the possibility of storing records in pods was considered, however after viewing some of the aquatic center’s records that have been stored in pods, it was decided that it was not the best option.

Ricci said that the pod-stored records had developed mold because they were not stored in an environment in which the humidity is controlled and could therefore not be stored with any other records, because of the damage.

“I don’t see why we can’t just store them in pods,” Chiravalle said after Ricci’s comments. “We don’t have records in a humidity controlled environment right now.”

Councilor Ralph Phelps said the funding requests that Stepan and Ricci made were okay with him, but told them that instead of increasing the budget, the money would need to come from somewhere else.

“We have got to do something,” Wheeler said. “I’d ask staff to move forward with finding a facility.” He also said that it would be appropriate to use current staff to sort through the records.

Following Wheeler’s comments, Gibson made a motion that would authorize staff to move forward with acquiring an appropriate location to house the County Records Center and further moved that council approve the hiring of necessary, temporary, casual or part-time staff to conduct the initial analysis and physical movement of the county records. He further moved that council approve an expenditure of $99,000 to cover the expenses involved in hiring suitable staff and obtaining the necessary supplies and direct the county administrator to return to council with a budget revision that transfers this amount from appropriate other budgets.

The motion passed 6-0, as Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer was absent.