Records management is the practice of maintaining the records of an organization — in this case, the City of Oakland — from the time they are created up to their eventual disposal. This may include the classification, storage, securing, and destruction of records.1 Capability for timely record retrieval is also a key part of a modern records management system.
The League of Women Voters can attest that Oakland City government lacks the tools to ensure that its records are easy for City staff and citizens to access and use. The Public Ethics Commission fields numerous complaints that have to do with missing records or failure to produce records. Last year this pattern of complaints led the PEC to propose to the City Council revisions to the Sunshine Ordinance (PDF) designed to set uniform records standards for the city. Despite strong support by the City Attorney and City Auditor, the Council’s Finance and Management Committee deferred the issue pending more study.
The proposal is finally coming back (PDF) to the Finance and Management Committee on December 15 (12 noon, City Hall Hearing Room 1). The League will be there to urge the adoption of the PEC’s recommendations (PDF). Oakland needs a framework for city policies and procedures, a systematic process for dealing with records that will be used throughout city government.
Basic records management is required by the California Public Records Act (CPRA), which requires that all public agencies make all their records, with some very few exceptions, accessible to the public. In order for records to be accessible, the city staff needs to be able to find them. The citizens of Oakland have a right to expect that their city government can and will comply with the requirements of the CPRA.
While there may be costs for putting a comprehensive records management system in place, having records in an efficient, easily accessible order will save the city money in the long run. Staff will spend less time searching for records and responding to complaints, and more time serving the public.
We can also expect savings from timely collection of records necessary to defend the city against lawsuits which now result all too often in unnecessarily long proceedings and/or unfavorable judgments and settlements.
In order to enact strong records management the city needs a strong policy – the records management ordinance changes to the Sunshine Ordinance – from the City Council and a strong commitment from the administration that it will enforce the policy. The City Clerk has made her statement of commitment by hiring a professional records manager to oversee the program. However, the records manager does not operate in a vacuum. Without full cooperation from all city departments, the records manager will not be able to do his or her job. The City Administrator must make a strong statement that records management has his full backing, and make it a high priority for everyone who does work for the city.
The proposal before the Finance and Management Committee on December 15
- streamlines and clarifies the definition of a city record to be “ all recorded information, regardless of media format or physical characteristics, that are produced, received, owned or used” by the city in connection with its affairs or legal obligations;
- adds the City Attorney and City Auditor to the Records Management Committee;
- provides for a review of the records management program by the Public Ethics Commission, with a public hearing;
- clarifies the roles of the City Clerk (development and implementation of records management program for all city elected officials), agency and department heads, and the Public Ethics Commission (authorized to investigate and report on specific allegations of non-compliance with records management program);
- clarifies that all city records are to be transferred to the City Clerk’s office upon termination of a contract or of an elected official’s term of office.
We need to let the City Council and City Administrator know that we expect them to follow up on this sane piece of legislation. We’re hoping for a good showing at the Finance and Management Committee next Tuesday, but everyone can send an email to or call the members of the committee:
Let the committee members — and the entire Council — know that you want Oakland to operate in a transparent, professional manner, and that the enactment of a strong records management ordinance is a crucial first step.