Go slow on records dump; Perry indictment fishy

Go slow on records dump; Perry indictment fishy

August 19th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Slow but sure on documents

Anyone with a room or basement full of old bills, Dad's letters to Mom from the war, the children's elementary-school drawings and old newspapers will understand what the city of Chattanooga wants to do.

Decades of city records, including the likes of billing records, emails, reports and parking tickets, have piled up in the basement of the City Annex building and aren't going anywhere fast.

Mayor Andy Berke's administration wants to digitize some of the records, and the City Council authorized $2.6 million in February to allow the administration to do so. But the question is what to keep and what to dump.

Where is the line drawn on the importance of older documents compared to their potential use? How many years should be kept current and how many destroyed? Which individuals are in the chain of disposing of individual documents? How easy would it be in the process to destroy something incriminating to previous administrations or the current one -- not that there's anything there.

The city apparently is in the process of making those decisions.

But before the city makes any final decisions on the disposal of records, City Attorney Wade Hinton told Times Free Press reporter Joy Lukachick, attorneys will bring a recommendation to the City Council and the mayor's office and allow time for public comment.

Some of the records, in keeping with Berke's promise of transparency, will be put in a public server for anyone's access -- as many files in the Criminal Court clerk's office are now, for instance.

The Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTSA), in cooperation with the Tennessee Municipal League, has on its website recommendations for the retention of specific records from animal control to utilities. Some of the retention periods are mandated by state or federal law. And municipalities, according to information on the website, "have a great deal of flexibility in adopting the retention schedule."

The site lists 21 categories of records and several hundred sub-categories, so it is clear a municipality the size of Chattanooga can quickly accumulate hundreds of thousands of documents.

But like with anyone's basement, some things -- eventually -- have to go. No one goes through the detritus in their basement quickly, and the city has said it has to take its time on what to keep and what to dispose of.

However, since Chattanooga recently had to cough up $70,000 in attorney's fees because it "willfully" withheld records from a resident who wanted information that dated to 1972, the key words to the disposition of records -- like those uttered by a 90-year-old great-grandmother on a walker in reference to her gait -- are "slow but sure."

So, the city should abide by the MTSA recommendations where possible, and keep the public informed throughout the process. Err on the side of keeping documents if there's any question. After all, what's a little clutter in the city's "basement" compared to a court case that determines the city tossed out something residents had every right to believe it should keep.

Smelling politics

When liberals smell politics unjustly at work against a conservative, there may be more fire than smoke in the politics.

Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry was indicted Friday by a Travis County grand jury for threatening to veto funds for an office that investigated public corruption, and Democrats and others on the left -- from former Barack Obama and Bill Clinton adviser David Axlerod to actress Mia Farrow -- cried "foul" along with most Republicans.

Axlerod called the indictment "pretty sketchy," former New Republic editor Jonathan Chait termed it "outrageously unfair," liberal MSNBC.com journalist Timothy Noah said it "looks fishy" and Farrow -- though why she weighed in is anybody's guess -- said the indictment "looks like politics not felony."

Perry, a longshot 2016 presidential hopeful, took his action because Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who oversees a Public Integrity Unit, was arrested for drunken driving and, in actions that were videotaped, had to be restrained, was abusive to law enforcement and was kicking doors, but didn't resign.

"I think Americans and Texans who have seen this would agree with me that that is not an individual who is heading up an office that we can afford to fund," he said. "I said early on, clearly, that I was going to veto those dollars as long as they have someone in that office who I have lost confidence in."