Authority possibly on hook for missing records

Jul. 30, 2013 @ 08:29 AM

The responsibility of a decade of missing meeting minutes may fall to the Rutherford County Airport Authority, not the county.

According to Freyda Bluestein, professor with the North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill, it is the individual body's responsibility to maintain records such as meeting minutes.

"If it's a public agency, they have an obligation to permanently preserve minutes," Bluestein said. "I believe there are sanctions for unlawfully destroying those."

Last week, The Daily Courier confirmed by email that Authority meeting minutes from 1980-1990 were missing. Neither current Authority chairman Bob Howard or Authority attorney Beth Miller know of their whereabouts.

During their July meeting, the Rutherford County Commission asked Manager Carl Classen to present a full report on the activities and dealings involving the Authority for its Aug. 5 meeting.

Over the course of the information gathering, Commissioner Bo Richard asked for meeting minutes from 1980-1985 in search of any previous dealings with a tree that has been the center of controversy since the current Authority agreed to pay $300,000 for the property — owned by Commission Chairman Julius Owens — where the tree is located.

Minutes from 1970-79 and from 1991-present were found in the terminal building at Marchman Field, however the minutes from 1980-90 were nowhere to be found.

Bluestein said it was the responsibility of the Authority to maintain those records, under state law.

"Typically, it would be the Airport Authority because they are a separate entity," Bluestein said. "If they have their own clerk, that would be the custodian of those records."

The county uses the State Records Center (SRC) in Raleigh to keep microfilm back-ups of meeting minutes and other documentation.

However, Carie Chesarino, records management analyst with the SRC said they have no records from the Airport Authority but do have county records through 2006.

"We do have a pretty much complete account of records from the Board of County Commissioner's minutes," Chesarino said. "We don't have any records from the governing body of the Airport Authority at all."

The SRC provides the backup at a cost of $15 per roll. Each roll contains approximately 2,400 pages of documents.

"The program here is voluntary but highly recommended that those minutes are sent to us and microfilmed," Chesarino said. "That way there is a backup of those records.

"We would store that microfilm here in our vault."

She concurred with Bluestein that it is the responsibility of the Airport Authority to maintain the records.

"They are permanent records and it would be their responsibility to keep those records themselves as well as get them to us for preservation," Chesarino said.

Under G.S. 143-318.16 (a) the "General Court of Justice has jurisdiction to enter mandatory or prohibitory injunctions to enjoin (i) threatened violations of this Article …"

However, Bluestein said there are too many questions surrounding the missing documents to know whether they were actually created or created and destroyed or even "kept in someone's garage."

"There is liability for things like destroying them or for leaving the position of keeping them and not passing them on when you leave the position," Bluestein said. "If they weren't created at all, I really don't know if there is anything in the statute that says there is liability."