- Associated Press - Saturday, August 23, 2014

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - Chattanooga is digitizing hundreds of thousands of city records with a $2.6 million project that city leaders say will increase government transparency and efficiency.

But that also means the city will have to explore what records it must legally retain and how many it can shred, meaning documents going back decades could be destroyed.

Some Chattanooga residents are criticizing the decision to destroy any public records that are part of the city’s history and could potentially be used to hold government officials accountable, The Times Free Press reported (https://bit.ly/1ttlbsc).

“It just seems so wrong that the city would use taxpayer dollars to destroy records,” said Rebecca Little, who recently won a public records lawsuit against Chattanooga.

City Attorney Wade Hinton said his office is trying to create a more efficient government by modernizing records. Hinton could not say how many records the city could potentially destroy. The city is currently developing a policy on what records can be tossed out.

“The city is 175 years old and has been accruing documents for all those years. We’ve got to have a policy,” said Stacy Richardson, an adviser to Mayor Andy Berke. “We’re not going to go down to a storage building and throw a match in there.”

The basement of the city’s annex building is stacked high with documents, some decades old. Some are stored on microfiche, said Chief Information Officer Brent Messer. Digitizing records would give the public quicker access to them, he said.

Don Lepard, founder of streetlight vendor Global Green Lighting, joined Little in questioning the need to get rid of documents.

Lepard has been caught in a three-way struggle with the city and its utility EPB, over a contract to install streetlights. He has said he found discrepancies in EPB bills for streetlights through public city records.

Lepard recently filed an open records request for EPB billing records dating back to 2000, and he requested the oldest records retained even on microfiche. As a result, he said he just can’t understand why the city would want to get rid of records that could help them with any future discrepancies.

“It boggles me,” Lepard said.


Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, https://www.timesfreepress.com

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