Records Management Training Lacking

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Council Staff Training Lapsed From 2007 Until Lawsuit Filed

Only One Current Staff Member Had Taken Training, City Records Show

The bad news is that the staff of the mayor and council members had not taken any training in managing local government records in many years.There are no state or local laws that make such training mandatory.

The good news is these employees started taking this training soon after The Austin Bulldog filed a lawsuit against the mayor, council members, and City of Austin over failures to comply with the Texas Public Information Act, Government Code Chapter 552.

The Austin Bulldog’s April 6 report detailed deficiencies in how council members and their staff have failed to collect, assemble, and maintain local government records as required by the Local Government Records Act and the city’s Local Government Records Control Schedules. The city also permitted every city official and employee to conduct public business by creating or receiving local government records via e-mail and to keep them secret by using personal e-mail accounts.

These recordkeeping deficiencies make it virtually impossible for city officials to respond in a complete and timely manner to requests filed by citizens and journalists under the Texas Public Information Act.

As reported by The Austin Bulldog April 15, the City Council has adopted a new policy to require council members and the officials they appoint to use city e-mail addresses as the primary means of communicating via e-mail. When personal e-mail accounts are used for city business the policy requires prompt forwarding to a city account.

The council directed the city manager and city clerk to develop similar policies for other city employees and members of sovereign boards and commissions.

Dearth of records management training

In responding to The Austin Bulldog’s open records requests filed January 19, 2011 and January 27, 2011, the city charged $1,043 for records initially released February 22. Further, despite numerous separate releases of records since then, today, three months later, the city is still searching for, assembling, and redacting records not yet released.

Training information obtained from the City of Austin through two open records requests filed April 12 indicates that only one of the mayor’s current staff members—and no current employee of the council members—had taken any of the available classes offered by the city in records management before The Austin Bulldog filed a lawsuit, The Austin Bulldog v. Mayor Lee Leffingwell et al on March 1. (An amended petition was filed March 11.)

A list of training sessions provided by the city shows that three such training sessions were conducted for council and mayoral staff members in 2007. None were conducted in 2008, 2009, or 2010. Two records management training sessions were conducted last month.

Records of who attended training sessions in 2007 and 2011 were compared to the roster of current employees in the mayor and council members offices, as listed on the on their web pages.

March 27, 2007 class: No record of attendance was available, according to the list of training sessions.

June 27, 2007 class: Nancy Williams, now executive assistant to Mayor Lee Leffingwell, attended this class.

September 13, 2007 class: No current staff member of the incumbent mayor or council members attended this class.

Attendance soared in the two classes offered on March 9 and March 16, 2011, after The Austin Bulldog sued. For a list of attendees, click here.

The March 9, 2011 class was attended by eight employees and Assistant City Attorneys Jacqueline Cullom and Anne Morgan. The training outline indicates the city had multiple problems, including adherence to records retention schedules, trouble responding to open records requests, and needed to address the investigation and litigation underway. The list under “Day forward” shows a range of actions that needed to be taken to achieve compliance.

The March 16, 2011 class was attended by Cullom and eight employees, four of which also attended the March 9 class. The training offered March 16 included a slide presentation.

The Austin Bulldog’s request for these training records also specifically asked for copies of any regulations, policies, or other guidance that may require mandatory training of officeholders and their staff members pertaining to records management and retention.

Kyle Carvell of the city’s Public Information Office said in an e-mail reply that “… there are no state or local laws that require records management and retention training for municipal officeholders or their staff.”

This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help to sustain The Austin Bulldog’s reporting by making a tax-deductible contribution.