What State Law and a Supreme Court Rule says about Records Retention

County Records Act, 16 P.S. § 13001 et seq.

The County Records Act, 16 P.S. § 13001 et seq. applies to "[a]ny county of the second through eighth class, including any of such counties as may have adopted a home rule charter" (which includes Centre County as a fourth class county).  In Section 4, the County Records Act states:

"County officers in counties, as defined in this act, may dispose of all county records in their custody, provided they follow the schedules and procedures prescribed by the county records committee and maintain a log of individual disposition actions involving nonpermanent records" (emphasis added).

In Section 4.1, the County Records Act states:

"Records may be recorded, copied or recopied in conformance with the act of May 9, 1949 (P.L.908, No.250), entitled "An act relating to public records of political subdivisions other than cities and counties of the first class; authorizing the recording and copying of documents, plats, papers and instruments of writing by photostatic, photographic, microfilm or other mechanical process, and the admissibility thereof and enlargements thereof in evidence; providing for the storage of duplicates and sale of microfilm copies of official records and for the destruction of other records deemed valueless; and providing for the services of the Department of Property and Supplies to political subdivisions," and applicable policies, standards and procedures adopted by the committee."

In turn, Section 1 of the act of May 9, 1949 (P.L.908, No.250) reads:

"Whenever any public officer of any political subdivision or agency thereof, including home rule municipalities, other than counties of the first class or agencies thereof and cities of the first class or agencies thereof, is required or authorized by law or otherwise to record or copy any document, the officers may do so by any digital, photostatic, photographic, microphotographic, microfilm, microcard, miniature photographic, optical, electronic or other process which accurately reproduces the original and forms a durable medium for recording, storing and reproducing the original in accordance with standards, policies and procedures for the creation, maintenance, transmission or reproduction of images of records approved by the County or Local Government Records Committees, as applicable, but not less than those standards, policies and procedures approved by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Any document within the scope of this section and which previously has been recorded or copied may be reproduced by processes authorized by this section."

Rule of Judicial Administration Pa.R.J.A. No. 507(a)

Given that the County Records Act only applies to counties of the second through eighth class the PA Supreme Court created Pa.R.J.A. No. 507(a) which deals with two other groups, to bring these two other groups into alignment with the schedules and procedures prescribed by the county records committee. These two other groups are:

(1) Offices Scheduled by the County Records Committee. Common Pleas Court Prothonotaries, Clerks of Courts, Clerks of Orphans’ Courts, Registers of Wills, District Attorneys, Sheriffs, Coroners, and Jury Commissioners or their Home-Rule equivalents when disposing of records shall do so in conformity with the applicable record retention schedules and the conditions stipulated therein promulgated from time to time by the County Records Committee under the act of August 14, 1963 (P. L. 839, No. 407) (16 P. S. §  13001 et seq.) (emphasis added).

(2) Counties of the First Class. Prothonotaries, Clerks of Courts, Clerks of Orphans’ Courts, Registers of Wills, and Jury Commissioners of counties of the first class when disposing of records shall do so in conformity with the record retention schedules and the conditions stipulated therein promulgated from time to time by the County Records Committee for counties of the second through eighth classes under the act of August 14, 1963 (P. L. 839, No. 407) (16 P. S. §  13001 et seq.), as amended.

The schedules and procedures prescribed by the county records committee

We see that the County of Centre has to follow the statutory mandate of  the County Records Act, 16 P.S. § 13001 et seq. whereas the Centre County District Attorney's Office must follow the requirement of Pa.R.J.A. No. 507(a). Either way, the end result is that both are mandated to follow the schedules and procedures prescribed by the county records committee (updated as of 4/2017) (in which pages 132-133 relate specifically to the DA's Office and the required retentio. timelines for certain records of that office).  Section 3 Appendices describes how the County must use certain forms related to disposal of records. Select passages from these schedules and procedures are as follows:

4. Definitions:

Electronic Record – A record created, generated, sent, communicated, received or stored by electronic means, including numeric, graphic, and text information recorded on any medium capable of being read by a computer which satisfies the definition of a record as defined in the County Record Act.

Electronic Mail (e-mail) System – A system that enables users to compose, transmit, receive, and manage text and/or graphic electronic messages and images across local area networks and through gateways connecting other networks. This information consists primarily of messages, but may include attachments such as calendars, directories, distribution lists, word processing documents, spreadsheets, and other electronic documents.

Record-keeping System – A system (manual or electronic) for organizing and identifying records to speed their retrieval, use and disposition and to provide adequate documentation of the county’s functions and business transactions.

5. Policy:

5.1 Electronic records may be disposed of only in accordance with schedules approved by the County Records Committee.

5.6 County officers shall retain and dispose of E-mail messages and attachments that meet the definition of records in conformance with retention schedules approved by the County Records Committee. E-mail messages and attachments that do not meet the definition of records and are not subject to litigation and other legal proceedings should be deleted immediately after they are read.

5.14 The implementation and use of an electronic records keeping system should not limit or hinder public access to public records.

9. Selection and Maintenance of Electronic Records Storage Media

County officers shall select appropriate media and systems for storing records throughout their life which meet the following requirements:

8.1.1 Permit easy retrieval in a timely fashion.
8.1.2 Facilitate the distinction between records and non-records as defined in the County Records Act.
8.2.3 The costs of storing and retrieving the records maintained in that format.
8.2.5 The access time necessary to retrieve stored records.
8.2.6 The portability of the medium (selecting a medium that will run on equipment produced by multiple manufacturers) and the ability to transfer information from one medium to another as well as the flexibility of the software to be migrated into a different medium if desirable or necessary.
8.3 County officers shall ensure that all authorized users can identify and retrieve information stored on removable disks or tapes by establishing or by adopting procedures for external labeling as well as procedures for computer library subsystems for storage media identification.

THE FAILURES OF CENTRE COUNTY

By refusing to pay attention to the guidelines for 9. Selection and Maintenance of Electronic Records Storage Media, the County of Centre is in willful defiance of the County Records Committee's Policy 5.14 which states that an electronic records keeping system "should not limit or hinder public access to public records". In this affidavit we see the County's contracted IT vendor argue that it would take 898.75 hours and over $100,000 to search for archived e-mail records! Amazingly the County has argued in Court that it's own refusal to follow the law (the County Records Committee's Policy 5.14 is a statutory mandate per Section 4 of the County Records Act) means that Right to Know requesters can have their requests denied. The Office of Open Records disagrees.