Local Governments – Which schedule should I use?

We just finished a round of regional public records workshops for local governments, and I wanted to go into more detail on some of the information on one of the slides that’s included in every single presentation: the “How do I find my schedule?” slide.

(Note: if you’re part of a state agency, and you don’t know how to find your retention schedule, see this blog post instead!)

The slide in question ends with the screenshot below, which is the table of local records retention schedules you’ll reach by going to this URL: http://archives.ncdcr.gov/For-Government/Retention-Schedules/Local-Schedules.


Table of local records retention schedules


What we don’t go into a lot of detail on in the workshops, though, is which link you should click on to get to the retention schedule that corresponds with your office.  For starters, the links in the left column are full records retention schedules as they were published.  The ones in the right column are amendments published afterwards, which add, change, or remove items from the full records retention schedule.  Once a schedule or amendment has been signed by your agency (you can check with an analyst to see if we have a record of the most recent schedule your agency has adopted), you are authorized to follow the retention periods listed inside.

What, however, qualifies as “your agency”?  There are a lot more options than “city” and “county” on the list.

Municipalities have a fairly easy time–everything they do is centered under the municipal form of government.  If you work for a municipality, you should use the municipal records retention schedule.

Counties are also fairly common units of local government, but unlike in municipalities, county records are spread out over a number of schedules.  Why?  Because according to  G.S. 121-5 and G.S. 132-8, retention schedules must be “approved by the head of the governmental unit or agency having custody of the records and the Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources” (emphasis mine).  County sheriffs, registers of deeds, and tax administrators are all elected directly.  County boards of elections are, by virtue of their role, independent from the standard Board of Commissioner structure.  Consequently, they’re considered different governmental units and agencies from the parts of the county structure that are led by a chief administrative officer or county manager (the parts led by the county manager should follow the county management retention schedule).

Health departments and social service agencies are so closely tied with their respective Divisions within the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that DHHS signs these retention schedules in addition to the local offices.  A similar relationship exists between local education agencies and the Department of Public Instruction.

Finally, we have the local government units that can overlap between cities and counties.  Local education agencies, already mentioned above, can exist at the municipal or the county level–except sometimes the bounds of a municipal school district don’t line up perfectly with the bounds of the municipality.  Charter schools, which are effectively one-school local education agencies, also follow the same records retention schedule (for more information, see this blog post).

Public libraries and public transportation systems can fall under the same category: library districts can extend across cities, and regional transit authorities are designed with cooperation between municipalities (and sometimes counties) in mind.  Similarly, water and sewer authorities can be set up along environmental lines and the location of processing plants, rather than along political boundaries.

Finally, Councils of Government are regional local government bodies that encompass multiple counties in the same area.

So, where does that leave local departments like animal control, public transportation, and airports, that appear in multiple schedules?  The reason that these departments’ records appear in multiple schedules is because different counties organize things in different ways.  Animal control could be under supervision of the county manager, the local health department, or the sheriff’s office.  Public transportation can exist at the municipal, county, and regional level.  Airport authorities can also exist at all three levels.

Ultimately, the schedule that you should use will depend on how where your department lies in your government organizational structure.  As always, if you need help finding your retention schedule, you can always contact an analyst.



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