A History of Records Management in Texas

Newsletters and PublicationsRecently, an RMO who used to work as an analyst for TSLAC contacted us about some materials he had collected from his time here, and wondered if we would like to have them as items of historical interest. Being who we are, we enthusiastically said yes! A box arrived shortly after, an absolute treasure trove of materials that an analyst might have collected in the late 1980s and early 1990s, right around the time of the formulation and passage of the Local Government Records Act. I looked through some of the weathered manuals and newsletters, and put together a brief history of records management in Texas.

A Sunset Advisory Commission staff report from 1994 gave me some information about the very beginnings of governmental records management in Texas. Recognizing that all state agencies create, receive, and maintain records, the legislature established the state records management program in 1947 to assist state agencies in managing their records. The program required TSLAC to manage all state records with the cooperation of the various state agencies, but also required state agencies to establish and maintain records management programs within their agencies, established record destruction procedures, and authorized the State Auditor to audit state agencies’ compliance with state policies. In 1965, the 59th Legislature created a seven-member advisory committee to advise the director of the records management division of TSLAC, and to review the state’s entire records management program at least once every two years. The committee was expanded from seven to 12 members in 1983, and was rechristened the Records Management and Preservation Advisory Committee. The committee was additionally tasked with recommending improvements to the state’s records management program and reporting its recommendations to TSLAC, the Legislative Budget Board, the budget division of the Governor’s Office, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives in March of each even-numbered year. This committee was eventually abolished and replaced with an interagency coordinating council (which many of you might recognize as RMICC today!) So, state agencies were moving in the right direction, but what about local governments?

Going through some old copies of The Local Record, the quarterly newsletter written and published by the analysts in the State and Local Records Management Division of TSLAC, I found editions leading up to the passage of the Local Government Records Act (LGRA). A newsletter from the spring of 1988 discussed the preparation of a draft for a comprehensive local government records act. The article acknowledged that the body of Texas laws governing the maintenance, destruction, preservation, microfilming, and other disposition of local government records at the time had been enacted in bits and pieces of the previous 30 years, and it was scattered, inconsistent, ambiguous, and difficult to interpret. At the time, many states were beginning to address the problems of local government recordkeeping, and Texas wasn’t alone in its desire to stimulate the growth of cost- and space-effective records management programs, to preserve local government records of historical value, and to have laws and rules that can respond to rapidly emerging technologies in the field of RIM – these were nationwide concerns.

In the spring of 1989, HB 1285 was passed by both houses of the legislature on the last weekend of the session, and it was signed into law by Governor William P. Clements, Jr. on June 16, 1989. This was the Local Government Records Act, which was projected to save local governments $211,127,000 in the first five years of its implementation. It was said at the time that Texas perhaps had the most comprehensive local government records laws in the country. Included in the materials gifted to us was a weathered booklet that was produced by SLRM that contained the entirety of the Local Government Records Act, which was dispersed to local governments in Texas so that they would know what their obligations were for managing records.

Before the development of TSLAC’s 12 local schedules after the passage of the LGRA, there was a publication called the Texas County Records Manual, which had guidelines for maintaining commonly-held records of local governments. Since these were only guidelines, local governments were encouraged, but not required, to follow them. However, when the LGRA was passed, the retention periods in the manual were validated and had the same effect as retention periods in the schedules that were ordered to be produced and distributed under another section of the act – in essence, they were the law. In December of 1991, TSLAC released the first of their newly developed and adopted records retention schedules – Local Schedule GR, Local Schedule TX, Local Schedule LC, and Local Schedule EL. In the years since, we’ve developed and adopted eight additional schedules to cover everything from the records of public safety offices to county clerks to school districts. We are currently working on updating the local schedules so that they are more comprehensive and thorough for the local governments that use them.