MNCOGI background on records retention provided to Civil Law Committee February 2, 2017

Posted by: on Feb 2, 2017 | No Comments


Prepared by Matt Ehling, MNCOGI board member

1.  The Records Management Statute (138.17) is separate from the Data Practices Act.  While the Data Practices Act regulates access to “government data,” the Records Management Statute (RMS) regulates how long government entities must keep “government records.”  Government records contain “government data” as defined by the Data Practices Act.

2.  The RMS does the following:

a.  Requires that government entities create “Records Retention Schedules” that specify how long they will keep government records;

b.  Empowers the Records Disposition Panel (the State Auditor, Legislative Auditor, Attorney General, and director of the Historical Society) to approve records retention schedules, approve when records can be destroyed, and transfer records with historical value to the State Archives at MHS;

c.  Defines various forms of “government records”;

d.  Regulates who has access to government records once they are transferred to MHS, since the Data Practices Act no longer applies once records are at MHS.

The RMS categorizes government records in terms of general categories of records, and not in terms of specific “form.”  For instance, the RMS speaks of “correspondence” and “memoranda” rather than “letters” or “e-mail.” It speaks of “recordings” instead of “videotapes” or “digital video files.”

3.  While the Data Practices Act does not apply to many rural townships, the RMS does.  However, the workload for rural townships is reduced, since they only need to maintain records under the RMS, but do not need to provide public access to the data under the Data Practices Act.

4.  The RMS requires government entities to create a records retention schedule, and to have it approved by the Records Disposition Panel.  Entities can either create their own, or use a model schedule, which many do.  MHS provides model records retention schedules that many cities, counties, townships, and other entities adopt.

The model schedules are available here.

For “correspondence” the model schedules specify the following retention periods:

a.  General County Retention Schedule:

General correspondence:  3 years

Medical examiner correspondence:  10 years

b.  General School District Retention Schedule:

Correspondence/administrative:  3 years

c.  General Township Retention Schedule:

General correspondence: 3 years

Historical correspondence:  Permanent

d.  General Cities Retention Schedule:

General correspondence: 3 years

Historical correspondence:  Permanent

Transitory correspondence:  Until read, unless content relates to city business and falls under other retention schedules.

5.  The Records Management Statute also interacts with the Official Records Act (15.17).  The Official Records Act states that government entities need to “make and preserve all records necessary to a full and accurate knowledge of their official activities.”  For many years, the Official Records Act was the only state statute that regulated government information.  John Finnegan and other people involved with the creation of the Data Practices Act disliked the Official Records Act because it did not provide much access to government information, and courts had interpreted it to be fairly narrow in its reach (see below).

6.  The Official Records Act was interpreted by a 1968 Minnesota Supreme Court case to only apply to “official” records.  The case (Kottschade v. Lundberg) held that government entities were not obligated to produce the field notes of a property assessor to the public, since such notes were not “official” records.  The enactment of the Data Practices Act – with its broad definition of “government data” – allowed the public to access government data such as field notes.  However, the concept of “official records” is still used by government agencies in the records retention area to categorize records that can be destroyed – even under a records retention schedule.  This is frequently applied to some types of e-mails. The thinking is that even if the public has access to a particular e-mail under the Data Practices Act, if that e-mail is not an “official record” then the entity does not need to keep it (unless it is the subject of a pending Data Practices Act request and disclosable as “public data”).  You can see that reflected in the recent St. Paul e-mail retention policy, where they state that messages that are not “official” can be destroyed outside of the records retention schedule.