As you all know, one of the primary responsibilities of county government is the recording, preservation and eventual destruction of public records. Among the many keepers of the records here in Tarrant County, our district and county clerks have overseen the establishment of several award-winning records management programs. I’ve pulled out two examples I think may be of some interest to County Progress readers.
District Clerk Tom Wilder has a success story he tells regarding the digital recording of records, while County Clerk Suzanne Henderson has multiplied the benefits of her office’s good idea on a better way to handle the official destruction of records.
The Tarrant County district clerk is custodian of more than 35,000 boxes of paper documents. This roughly translates into more than 25 million paper document pages associated with civil, family, and criminal district court cases dating back to the late 19th century.
As you can see, a county as big as Tarrant can generate enough documents to fill a medium-sized skyscraper in downtown Fort Worth. The commissioners court determined that it needed to tap into the new technologies available for document imaging and switch from paper copies to digitized electronic copies.
Today, the district clerk uses about 1.3 terabytes each year to electronically store official records. Our Information Technology Department maintains and supports an award-winning system for managing both remote access to court records for fee-paying subscribers and internal viewing by courthouse staff.
Today, the district clerk has completed the conversion of nearly two decades of court documents to digital images which can be accessed by judges, clerks, court staff, other county offices and the general public.
While the county clerk also uses digital imaging for her record storage requirements, a program her office began in 1993 was aimed primarily at the legal destruction of official records that had been held past their retention date or had been transferred to microfilm for retention.
The objective of this model program is to divert significant amounts of old records and workplace waste from Tarrant County landfills by gathering and recycling these paper materials for reuse by paper companies. Using revenue from document filing fees, the county clerk’s office initially began the program with a small paper shredder, conveyor system and baler. Initial sorting bins and paper “toters” were donated, and a sorting table was built by the recycling center workers.
Tarrant County, as well as many other government entities, has benefitted from this program. Some 35 local governments, including several school districts, in the North Texas region have joined the program through interlocal agreements. This number continues to increase annually. The entities save money because they no longer have to pay to have private sector companies come to haul their waste paper away. Tarrant County benefits by selling the paper it receives while promoting regional cooperation in the reduction and diversion of solid waste.
Commissioners courts will be faced with many competing interests in the discussions regarding the collection, storage and destruction of public records and must keep their eyes focused on the bottom line and the interests of their citizens. I hope my discussion of these programs has given you some ideas on how to better address your own records management issues.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish you all the very best during this holiday season. Christmas is a time for family get-togethers and religious celebrations, while New Year’s Day is a celebration of the future’s unlimited potential. It’s a special time of the year that almost all of us cherish. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Hon. J.D. Johnson, Tarrant County Commissioner