Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson told the Daily Journal he thinks the public should have limited access to documents related to how and why county government leaders decide policies, even if the records don’t involve sensitive information. He suggested an option is for officials to limit communication about county business to conversations and phone calls.

“I’m not trying to do anything underhanded, I just try to keep public records to a minimum,” Thompson said.

State law requires local governments to retain and archive public documents for periods of time, ranging from just a few years to forever, depending on their importance. Many records, such as audits, budgets, contracts, property deeds and documents approved during meetings are routinely maintained and archived by city, chancery and circuit clerks and other record-keepers. However, little oversight and accountability exists for maintaining and organizing other documents requiring compliance with the same standards.

Destroying public records can be much more subtle than shredding documents. It can happen as easily as pressing delete on a keyboard or cellphone.

Tim Barnard, director of the local government records office at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said he doesn’t know a single government among the state’s nearly 300 municipalities and 82 counties in full compliance with the law.

“Some are better than others,” he said.

Government officials not paying attention to Mississippi records laws should seriously reconsider, said Alan Shark, executive director and CEO of Public Technology Institute, a Virginia-based national nonprofit organization focused on technology issues that impact city and county governments.

Beyond open record laws, legal disputes often include electronic discovery, a federal rule since 2006, which allows judges to issue subpoenas for all digital and electronic records related to lawsuits. He said this additional legal aspect makes electronic records management systems essential to include records like emails, text messages and even communication on social media.

Beyond legal requirements, Shark said when governments don’t maintain and archive records, it can encourage an environment of public mistrust.

3 thoughts on “Say what?! Lee Co. Admin’s solution to county’s public records non-compliance: Limit public access

  1. We’ve been concerned about cover up shenanigans in Washington and rightly so. However it is beginning to creep into our state. The people of Lee County need to demand this clown is removed immediately. If we the people don’t keep our eyes open we will soon have no freedoms left here in Mississippi as the ruling class makes all the decisions and we peasants pay the taxes to support them.

  2. His dealing do not involve his own personal funds, decisions that effect only himself and his family. Were that the case, I’d agree. That’s not the case. This country is “supposed to”, should, and has been served well by checks and balances, access to information. People in authority are constantly being jailed because they abused the authority, we misjudged that they could benefit a office and authority, to find fraud or illegal practices. I would think the one in office making this statement, would cause legitimate concern for the people who are watching – because they care about this country and the direction it is heading. Sounds like he wants obama’s kind of transparency and ethics.

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