Records Retention & Disposition
- Determine whether your document or data is a public record. (See expanded definition below)
- Designate whether the official version of the document or data will be retained as a physical record or electronic. Establishing an electronic version as the official version requires authorization from the IT Director and the Mayor's Office.
- Consult the current General Records Schedule and RDA's for the appropriate record series for the documents or data. (If an appropriate record series doesn't exist, contact the City's Records Manager for assistance in establishing a new series.)
What Is A Public Record?
Records include all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by a government agency. Public records are made or received in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the government or because of the informational value in them.
Several key terms, phrases, and concepts in the statutory definition of records are defined as follows:
- Documentary materials is a collective term for records, nonrecord materials, and personal papers that refers to all media containing recorded information, regardless of the nature of the media or the method(s) or circumstance(s) of recording.
- Regardless of physical form or characteristics means that the medium may be paper, film, disk, or other physical type or form; and that the method of recording may be manual, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or any other combination of these or other technologies.
- Made means the act of creating and recording information by agency personnel in the course of their official duties, regardless of the method(s) or the medium involved. The act of recording is generally identifiable by the circulation of the information to others or by placing it in files accessible to others.
- Received means the acceptance or collection of documentary materials by agency personnel in the course of their official duties regardless of their origin (for example, other units of their agency, private citizens, public officials, other agencies, contractors, government grantees) and regardless of how transmitted (in person or by messenger, mail, electronic means, or by any other method). In this context, the term does not refer to misdirected materials. It may or may not refer to loaned or seized materials depending on the conditions under which such materials came into agency custody or were used by the agency. Advice of legal counsel should be sought regarding the "record" status of loaned or seized materials.
- Preserved means the filing, storing, or any other method of systematically maintaining documentary materials by the agency. This term covers materials not only actually filed or otherwise systematically maintained but also those temporarily removed from existing filing systems.
- Appropriate for preservation means documentary materials made or received which in the judgment of the agency should be filed, stored, or otherwise systematically maintained by an agency because of the evidence of agency activities or information they contain, even though the materials may not be covered by its current filing or maintenance procedures.
Records Disposition Authorization
A Records Disposition Authorization (RDA) establishes the life cycle of a series or category of records, regardless of format. The RDA provides instructions and information as to the record content, format, length of the retention period, official record location and disposition. The RDA assists agencies in managing records throughout the record's life cycle, from creation through disposition. State statutes require that the agency prepare an RDA within one year from the time a record series is created and before any of the records can be disposed of. RDA's should be submitted through the City of Madison Records Officer.
General Records Schedule
A General Records Schedule (GRS) represents approved RDA's for the agency. The General Schedules and RDA's have several fields, but the most important are:
- Number - A unique number that identifies the schedule.
- Title - Review this field to see if the schedule is a possible match for your record.
- Program - Review this field to see if the schedule applies to your organization.
- Description - review this field to decide if the schedule truly matches your record.
- Retention & Trigger - indicates how long the record is kept and the event that starts the retention period.
- Disposition - indicates what happens to the record after the retention period has been met.
How Long Is A Record Retained?
Public records laws and governances are only starting points for determining the retention period of public records in each city department. Program areas may have additional statutory and/or legal requirements to consider, such as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which includes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Other governance entities that may establish retention rules include Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or US Department of Labor. Check with your department's assistant city attorney if you're not sure what regulatory agency governs your programs.
In addition to legal requirements, business need and best practices may determine how long records are retained.
The City utilizes four retention categories:
With the exception of Permanent, the category determines the start of a retention period, e.g., FIS+7 means the records will be retained for 7 years after 12/31/xxxx.
Check the General Records Schedule for an appropriate series for your records or data. The schedule will indicate the retention period and, if event-based, will indicate the trigger (event) that starts the retention period.
If the General Records Schedule does not include an appropriate record series, contact the City's Records Manager.
Physical records are stored at the State Record Center (SRC). Physical records may include paper, microfiche, and photos.
Records stored at the SRC must be in approved cartons/boxes. Refer to the SRC Fact Sheet for ordering instructions.
Electronic records are typically stored within the application (e.g., Legistar, MUNIS), Sharepoint/KnowledgeLake, and/or on shared network drives. Please see Electronic Records Management for more information.
The General Records Schedule and RDA's indicate both the retention period and disposition for each record series. Once the retention period has been met, the records are either destroyed, destroyed-confidential, or transferred to the Wisconsin State Historical Society (WHS). By law, all records must be offered to the WHS before destruction. This requirement can be met two ways:
- When a record series is established, the WHS will review and either indicate interest or waive the notification.
- A "destruct list" is sent to WHS before the records are authorized for destruction. The list includes all records that have met their retention period. (SRC submits a destruct list twice a year to the City of Madison Records Manager for all City records.)
Once authorized by the department's records coordinator, the physical records stored at SRC will be disposed of or transferred to WHS.
A list of electronic records to be purged must go to WHS before disposition. Departments are encouraged to purge electronic records twice a year. Keep in mind that some record series require transfer of the electronic file to WHS once they've met their retention period (e.g., correspondence from/to department or division heads).
Note: Regardless of whether a record has met the retention period, it cannot be disposed of if it is needed for litigation, or if there is an open records request or an open records request is reasonably anticipated.