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City Council Testimony:
Janet Linde, Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York

First, we would like to thank the Committee and the Council for the opportunity to submit testimony on a subject that is of great professional concern to us. As members of the professional archival community, we are committed to the well-being of the Municipal Archives, the strength of the statutes that govern the administration of public records, and the provision of access to public records as a basic tenet of a democratic society.

As the Council is aware, we have written to Mayor Bloomberg (attached) to express our concern and dismay over the recent removal of the mayoral records of the Giuliani administration from the custody of the New York City Department of Records and Information Services, also known as DORIS. These records belong to the City of New York and are a valuable public resource.

We testify today to bring to your attention the ramifications of this contract from the point of view of professional archivists. We would also like to take this opportunity to make some general statements regarding strengthening the records law that governs mayoral and other city records and the need for greater financial support and independence for DORIS.

We are troubled that the City has relinquished its responsibility for the preservation and care of these important records. The City is obligated to maintain its records and we contend that this obligation should be fulfilled by those professionals employed by the City and accountable to the public

Over the past twenty-five years the Municipal Archives has processed and provided access to the records of the City of New York, as directed by the City Charter. During this time the Archives has processed 28 collections of mayoral records. Its staff answered over 75,000 research requests in 2001 (by mail, phone, and in person). DORIS archivists are the most skilled and experienced professionals at appraising, processing, describing and making available City records. In the past, DORIS has met professional standards and will, with sufficient funding, continue to do so in the future

If DORIS' efforts have been hampered by a lack of funding, the City and the Mayor's Office must bear some responsibility. If additional funds are needed to expedite the processing of former Mayor Giuliani's records, then the City should seek additional funds, through grants or other means, in order to accomplish that goal.

In addition, we are concerned about the constrictions the agreement between the City and the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs places on access. This agreement does not require public access to the documents and requires written approval by the City before granting access to the public. This raises a barrier to researchers that does not currently exist with respect to similar city records. It is our understanding that in the past mayoral records have been made available by DORIS to the public without blanket restrictions and on a much more timely basis.

The current contract states that The Office of the Corporation Counsel will determine which records held by the Center are official government documents and which are the private records of former Mayor Giuliani or another individual. We maintain that such decisions should be made by the professional archivists employed by the City and responsible to the public in accordance with statutory guidance.

Further, in regard to restricted access and private material the contract lays out three categories of restricted material that are troubling to us in a number of ways. These categories are:

1) Records dealing with matters relating to City security and law enforcement
2) Records of a private nature
3) Records relating to current or anticipated litigation or otherwise legally privileged

The categories listed above concern the archival community for the following reasons:

1) They are overly broad and vague.
2) There is no indication as to any statutory basis for the categories.
3) There are no time limits on the restrictions.
4) There is no indication as to what happens to restricted records.
5) All records which may be security-related, privileged or private are to be brought to the attention of the Office of the Corporation Counsel for review.

This last provision is of special concern to professional archivists. The City archivists who are charged with maintaining these records and who are accustomed to handling these types of records are clearly the best qualified to make determinations regarding sensitive materials, yet their input and expertise have been entirely removed from the appraisal process.

Perhaps the most long-lasting point made by the current situation is that there is a lack of strength and clarity in the law regarding the custody of public records. We believe that the law must be strengthened to make such a transfer of government records to private custody impossible.

We urge this committee to revise the current law concerning the transfer of City records to DORIS. The law should state unequivocally that all records created during the course of City business should be transferred to the physical custody of the Municipal Archives in a timely manner as per an Agency's records retention schedule. The fact that a private entity was able to gain custody of public records demonstrates that the current law is clearly inadequate. We believe that without appropriate changes to the law, the contract between the City and the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs will establish a dangerous precedent. The Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York would welcome the opportunity to assist this committee in the drafting of any future legislation relating to the disposition of City records.

In conclusion, the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York calls for full funding of the Municipal Archives as the best solution to the myriad questions raised by the Giuliani records. With a fully-funded Municipal Archives and a strong set of records laws we will not again find ourselves in a situation in which the public loses custody of and access to its valuable intellectual heritage and the records that ensure an open government.

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Add your Name to the Petition | Press Conference, Feb. 6, 2002 | Protest Letters | News Articles | Testimony at the Feb. 20, 2002 City Council Hearing |
Defending the archives contract: Saul Cohen, President, Rudy Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs