Documenting the Premature Destruction of Local Government Records

We live in Texas – the state that can rightfully boast of being susceptible to nearly every kind of extreme weather scenario. In this young century, we’ve endured hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, earthquakes, wildfires, blistering droughts, flooding: you name it – we’ve experienced it. Texas is also not immune from human errors like electrical fires, accidental deletion, or simply misplacing records.

This is a wind-up to say that all of these factors can lead to records being lost before their retention requirements have been fulfilled. State agencies will file an RMD 102: Authority to Dispose of State Records with TSLAC in these instances. But what about local governments?

Certain local government records management compliance rules were removed during the 86th legislative session and among those was the requirement that local governments need to file paperwork with TSLAC in the case of premature destruction of records. The requirement only applied to records with permanent retention, but we accepted forms for record series with less than permanent retention.

So how can governments document premature destruction of records now?

Local governments should be documenting all routine disposition, and they should especially be documenting non-routine disposition. If a structure holding records that have not yet met retention collapses destroying the records therein, a record should be produced detailing which record types were destroyed. TSLAC has created a template for this, which can be accessed here: Documentation for Premature Loss or Destruction of Records (Word). This is simply a template for this type of record, so you are welcome to use it or adjust it to suit your needs.

An unscheduled destruction document should include:

  • Basic information about the custodian of the records (i.e name of your local government, department, address, etc).
  • Record Number, using TSLAC’s local schedules or your own unique series, for easy identification and crosswalking.
  • Include the Record Series Title and, if necessary, a description. Some record series can be split across formats and locations and part of a record series can be destroyed while the rest stays intact. This can be noted in this field.
  • Inclusive Dates. This is crucial. If the records that were destroyed had already met retention, you could just put them on your disposition log and be done with it. But these records have not. The inclusive dates will tell the tale.
  • Quantity of affected records. If someone accidentally deletes a file on her computer and it is unrecoverable and can’t be reproduced, it might be 1 megabyte. If someone drops a gallon of coffee all over a server, it could be several terabytes.

Additional considerations when documenting premature destruction:

  • Include as many supplemental pieces of information as you can. In the case of an accidental deletion of a document, that might just be an email conversation. In the case of a tornado, that could be photographs and news clippings. You cannot over-document premature destruction. When these forms were sent to TSLAC, they were often accompanied by reports prepared by building inspectors or conservators.
  • You might also consider documenting the time spent trying to recover the records, whether it’s an open IT help desk ticket to recover electronic records, or an in-house mold remediation team that assembles to assist with the recovery of physical documents.
  • By creating this internal documentation, you are also creating a record that must be retained permanently, per GR 1000-40b – Records Management Records.

Lastly, this form does not absolve you of legal responsibility for following the retention period set by your schedules; it just provides evidence about the nature of the records’ destruction. By doing this in the normal course of business, it shows that information was not intentionally withheld or destroyed.

If you have any questions about our templates, please contact us at 512-463-7610 or slrminfo@tsl.texas.gov.

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