Thursday, January 23, 2014

Destroyed Records: My Final UPDATE - A Rebuttal from the Heritage Society

The backlash continues, following the destruction of valuable, research-rich records in Franklin County, NC. If you are not aware of the situation, you can read about it here, with previous updates given here, and here.

There is now a rebuttal from the Franklin County Heritage Society to the letter from County Manager, Angela Harris.  The Heritage Society had planned to present this rebuttal, along with supporting documentation at the January 21st Commissioners Meeting, however, it was canceled due to weather.  Therefore, the rebuttal was posted on the society's Facebook page, with the following precursor:

On January 16, 2014, Mrs. Harris, Franklin County manager, released a statement meant to defend her responsibility in the destruction of the historical records that the Heritage Society and many volunteers throughout the county had strived ...for months to save. Links to her statement appear on this page, on Franklin County News Online and on numerous sites throughout the internet. The Heritage Society believes that Mrs. Harris failed to support her decision and instead attempted to lay the blame for her own actions on the shoulders of members of the Society and the Clerk of Court. At our monthly meeting on Thursday, January 16, the membership voted unanimously to respond to Mrs. Harris's statement with the following Rebuttal. We were prepared to attend the commissioner's meeting in mass on January 21 and present our rebuttal along with numerous pages of supporting documentation. Since the meeting was delayed until January 27th due to the weather, we are releasing our Rebuttal here so that the public can view our response in a timely manner. Our apologies to the reader in that this is a lengthy document.
Here follows the Heritage Society's rebuttal, in its entirety:

REBUTTAL Offered by The Heritage Society of Franklin County, NC to Mrs. Harris's Statement

January 23, 2014 at 2:10am
This REBUTTAL, dated January 16, 2014, is offered by The Heritage Society of Franklin County, NC to the written statement made by Mrs. Angela Harris, on January 16, 2014, in response to the events of December 6, 2013 and the burning of 100 year old county records.  Mrs. Harris's original statement is in regular print, our rebuttal statements are in BOLD Print and quotes taken from others are posted in ITALICSSupporting documentation was included in the original statement provided to the County Commissioners and can be made available upon request.  

County Manager Angela L. Harris:
Response to Destruction of Franklin County Historical Records
After careful consideration and reflection of the chain of events that led to the disposal of county and state records on December 06, 2013, and with great concern for the citizens of Franklin County who have experienced disappointment over this matter, I am providing the following summary.

Early in her tenure (exact date uncertain,)…........Mrs. Chastain was appointed on May 1, 2013, the records were discovered on May 9, 2013.  On May 16, 2013, Mrs. Chastain wrote a signed and officially sealed document to The Heritage Society requesting our assistance in "sorting, cataloging, rediscovering and preserving the history" found in the basement.  The letter was presented at the Heritage Society meeting on that same day.  Present at the meeting was County Commissioner Sidney Dunston.  On May 17, 2013, following discussions with Society members and Mrs. Chastain about the proper handling of the documents and the best archiving system, Pat Leonard, Heritage Society President put in a request to the State Archives for their professional advice.  On May 22, 2013, Tom Vincent (Unit Supervisor with the Records Analysis Unit of the State Archives) returned the call and stated that they would make arrangements to come to Franklin County to assess the situation…...... newly appointed Clerk of Court, Patricia Chastain visited the County Administration Building and stopped by Chuck Murray’s office (Director of Finance and General Administration) where Mr. Murray and I were meeting. The Clerk of Court, Ms. Chastain made reference to North Carolina Archives wanting to come to Franklin County, but she was “trying to hold them off” (I believe was her statement).........Mrs .Chastain was not contacted by the State Archives until May 29, 2013 (seven days following their conversation with Heritage Society President Pat Leonard and a full 12 days following our initial phone call to the Archives). Her schedule was full at this point and the dates proposed by the Archives were in conflict with previously scheduled Court business.......... until Heritage Society members could go through documents stored in the basement. The basis of her concern was that Archives would take certain items and leave others behind..........which is what was stated in the email from Mr. Vincent, "We'll bring our small van and just two or three people, we may take some records on our initial visit.  If there is a large quantity of records for us to pick up, we can set up a time to come back with more staff and our large truck."  .Mrs. Chastain's main concern was that she be available and present when the Archives arrived so that she would be able to participate in the assessment............ I expressed on this date and a number of times thereafter that I would recommend seeking the guidance of Archives and fully disclosing the goal of maintaining records (or copies) locally. (Note: I would later learn that officials from Archives had proposed to the Clerk of Court the dates of June 10, 12 or 13 for a visit and initial survey; alternate dates were the week of June 17 and June 24.) The Clerk of Court indicated she would have Heritage members sign a confidentiality statement. I expressed concern that individuals unrelated to the court would be going through her files and advised her to seek guidance on this matter........From the onset, The Heritage Society had agreed that confidentiality was imperative and had agreed to such on May 16, 2013 when we received and entered into our record the Letter from Mrs. Chastain requesting our assistance…….. 
Note: Later, the question was raised about the County Attorney drafting a statement for the volunteers. The County Attorney and I discussed and agreed this was the Clerk’s matter; therefore, I advised the Clerk of the importance of her seeking appropriate guidance from her superiors........This issue was not presented to Heritage Society members until AFTER the County Commissioners meeting on August 5, 2013, where they agreed to provide utilities for the donated office space.  Society members agreed to sign a release of liability statement and even unanimously voted on the issue.  Mrs. Harris had stated that the release would be drawn up by the county attorney, Pete Tomlinson, and the Heritage Society requested on several occasions when the release would be made available to us.  It was discussed for the final time when Mrs. Chastain and Diane Taylor Torrent encountered Mrs. Harris on the street outside of the donated offices prior to August 15, 2013.  Mrs. Torrent asked Mrs. Harris when the release would be ready for signatures and Mrs. Harris replied that the decision had been made that it was no longer at issue.  Mrs. Harris did not at that time make any reference to it being "the Clerk's matter" and reiterated, when questioned, that it was no longer on the table.  
The Clerk of Court inquired of county staff about the availability of space so that Heritage Members could work on sorting documents. I am uncertain of the exact date she began to inquire about this.........The Heritage Society, not Mrs. Chastain, made multiple requests of Mrs. Harris for more space to work beginning in June of 2013. An email with an attached timeline sent to Mrs. Chastain reflects requests made in both June and July............. Again, I proposed she seek guidance within her system about the project. Space was identified.........it was Mrs. Chastain that was able to acquire the donated space and informed Mrs. Harris about the donated offices and office equipment in a meeting attended by Mrs. Chastain, Mrs. Torrent and Mrs. Harris on the day of the County Commissioner's meeting of August 5, 2013..........    and on August 05, 2013, the Board of Commissioners supported paying utilities for a period up to six months. Utilities were turned on August 08, 2013 (cut off on November 04, 2013) at the space identified.
On August 14, 2013 Mr. Murray emailed Register of Deeds Brandi Davis “I think it would be smart to tell Heritage Society not to touch any of the ROD’s records until you guys have a chance to go through them.” He advised me he was concerned about confidentiality............In an email from Brandi Davis, dated August 15, 2013 she stated that her conversation with Tom Vincent at the State Archives had influenced the decision to ask The Heritage Society to "stand down"..........
In meeting on August 14, 2013 a local citizen made me aware she had been in the basement with Ms. Diane Taylor Torrent from the Heritage Society.............As the donated office space was being set up and preparations were being made to move some of the records into the space to begin work, volunteers were lining up to offer any assistance necessary to be sure that the records were preserved.  This volunteer, who had also facilitated in helping us to acquire much of the office furniture and supplies, was a trained librarian, a prominent member of the community and had offered her assistance in creating a cataloging system for the records.  As we discussed various methods, it became clear that no one system was going to work for the variety of records that were present in the basement.  Since she could not make an adequate assessment of the amount and variety of records and documents that would need to be catalogued without knowing what she was dealing with, we went into the basement.  She was able to get a general idea of the amount of records we were dealing with and at no time touched or opened any box or book.    At this time, no one had any objections to the work we were doing or to anyone entering the basement..............She expressed she was surprised Ms. Torrent had a key to the basement since she was not an employee (court or County)............ Both the upstairs office space and the basement doors were kept locked at all times, with the keys on a chain around my neck, to ensure the safety of the records, as items were being moved in and out..........  I had concerns regarding confidentiality of the County records and followed up with the Clerk of Court the next day. Some of these records were confidential and should not be handled by unauthorized personnel.
On August 15, 2013 the Register of Deeds emailed the Clerk of Court advising she and the Finance Director visited the basement on August 12, 2013 to see what records were in the basement or had been removed. In her email she advised she had contacted Archives for assistance. She advised the Clerk of Court in her email that Tom Vincent with Archives had informed her that ‘until Archives gave final approval, the Heritage Society should not have access to these records.’ Ms. Davis advised the Clerk of Court the Heritage Society should be “put on hold.”….......On August 19, 2013 The Heritage Society emailed Mrs. Chastain expressing our continued commitment to the project as well as expressing our hopes that following the Archives assessment we would again be allowed to continue the work.  By August 20th the keys to both the basement and the donated offices had been returned to Mrs. Chastain.  All items belonging to the Heritage Society remained in hopes that the project would be reinstated at a later date........... Ms. Davis was attempting to schedule a time for Archives to assist her with her records. Ms. Davis later advised me Mr. Vincent had not heard back from the Clerk of Court in reference to scheduling a visit to the County.
Note: Prior to this date, Ms. Davis understood there were no Register of Deeds records in the basement. Ms. Davis possessed two postcards with information regarding items that had been shredded in 2000. On the bottom of one postcard was the statement “NOTHING IS STORED IN OLD COURTHOUSE NOW.” Other information on the postcards read “DESTROYED AMENDMENT APPLICATIONS AND DELAYED BIRTH CERTIFICATE APPLICATIONS FROM 1968 thru 1994. BY SHREDDING IN JULY 2000.” Additionally, one card stated “Destroyed Financing Statement index Books (4) from 1982-1991 A-Z which were stored. Another statement read “Destroyed Marriage License Stubs from 1962 thru 1994.”............This information, while interesting, has little to no bearing on this issue as the range of the records in the basement covered the years 1840 to 1960.    
Later in the day, on August 15, 2013 I met with the Clerk of Court to discuss my concerns, one of which was confidentiality of certain records. On this date, I also discussed the State issued Record Retention and Disposition policy. Mr. Murray later emailed retention guidelines to the Clerk of Court and Ms. Torrent. I was aware Archives had attempted contact with the Clerk of Court in order to arrange a site visit. I urged Ms. Chastain to contact Archives and schedule the visit and later that day she did. 
The Clerk of Court emailed Tom Vincent (Local Records Supervisor- Records Analysis Unit with NC Department of Cultural Resources) regarding Franklin County Archival Records. In her email she wrote, “I am finally settling in and getting back to this matter” in response to her original contact of May 29, 2013 setting up a potential meeting in June, 2013.
On August 21, 2013 Mr. Vincent and Carie Chesarino (Records Analyst) examined the basement of the Franklin County Courthouse. The follow up report indicated “the records in the storage room are in extremely bad condition" A copy of their preliminary findings is available in the Manager’s office. The conclusion section of the report stated the amount of dirt and mold in the storeroom make it hazardous for anyone to spend any amount of time in there.” ..........and the entire quote continues to say "As stated above, the majority of these records can be destroyed according to current Records Retention and Disposition Schedules. The records must be identified in order to determine if the can be destroyed. The Record of Liens and the loose civil and criminal cases would need to be inventoried as stated above before the Division of Archives and Records could give permission to destroy them.".............. 
On August 22, 2013 Mr. Vincent followed up via email with the Ms. Davis regarding giving the delayed birth applications to the Heritage Society. He stated “I’m really uncomfortable with official copies of anything having to do with vital records being outside of government custody.” He went on to reference GS 130A-93(b) and advised “the retention period for the delayed birth applications is only 1 year, so you can get rid of those.”
On September 20, 2013, Ms. Davis emailed Becky McGee-Lankford (Manager, Government Records Section, Assistant State Records Administrator) regarding “delayed birth certificates and a trash bag of health certificates that used to be used to obtain a marriage license years ago.” She sought guidance regarding their destruction. On October 01, 2013 Ms. McGee-Lankford responded with instructions for destruction and/or retention. Note: Marriage Health Certificates contained “certificates from a regularly licensed physician stating that no evidence of venereal disease, tuberculosis in the infectious or communicable state, or mental incompetence was found in the applicants.”This information is confidential.................Mrs. Torrent actually discovered these documents early in the process and brought it to the attention of both Mrs. Chastain and Mrs. Harris immediately.  She gave them both instructions on exactly where they were located in the basement.  When the "stand down" order was given those items were still in the basement in the same location.  The question still remains as to why "sensitive" health department records were stored in this area in the first place............... 
On the evening of October 01, 2013, I noted the Clerk and Ms. Torrent were standing outside of the basement area. They stated they had been working on an inventory for Archives. I stated to the Clerk of Court that while the preliminary report from Archives did reference an inventory, it was my understanding we were to “cease and desist” until a representative from health and safety with the Administrative Office of the Courts made a site visit. The Clerk stated her guidance was to do an inventory. My understanding was Archives had initially stated “if” an inventory existed, they wanted a copy; however, the Health and Safety Inspector would be making a site visit and further activity should cease in the interim. I advised the Clerk of Court she may want to follow up on this issue rather than continuing to be in the basement….....By September 20, 2013, we were still waiting for a response from the Archives.   Steve Trubillia, a concerned citizen, wrote to Becky McGhee Lankford and expressed his impatience at the delay that the county was experiencing in the records preservation while awaiting their response.  Mrs. Lankford responded to Mr. Trubillia with the long awaited report attached.  This report was then forwarded to county officials via Mr. Trubillia.  This was the first anyone had heard from the Archives since their August visit.  The report was not received through official channels but had to be requested by a citizen.  The report stated that many of the items could be destroyed, but repeatedly reiterated these statements…............" The custodians of the records need to verify what the records are prior to destruction"…".Resources does not want these books and would be willing to give permission for their destruction, but prior to doing that we would need to receive an inventory of the volumes containing total number of volumes and beginning and end date of the entire collection"….. "Given their condition and the fact the action were also recorded in the court minutes, we would give permission to destroy those records if we were provided with an inventory"……"If, when inventorying these books prior to destruction, any chattel mortgage records are found prior to 1866, those records should be transferred to the State Archives or maintained permanently in the  office"……"CONCLUSION
The amount of dirt and mold in the storeroom make it hazardous for anyone to spend any amount of time in there. As stated above, the majority of these records can be destroyed according to current Records Retention and Disposition Schedules. The records must be identified in order to determine if they can be destroyed. The Record of Liens and the loose civil and criminal cases would need to be inventoried as stated above before the Division of Archives and Records could give permission to destroy them."……............Mrs. Harris met with Mrs. Chastain and Mrs. Torrent in her office in late September following receipt of this report to discuss its contents.  Mrs. Chastain stated at that time that an inventory needed to be completed in order to proceed.  Mrs. Harris did say that her interpretation of the report was the opposite even though the report had repeatedly stated that an inventory would be required in order for the Archives to fully assess.  Mrs. Torrent asked that since The Heritage Society had been ordered to "stand down" which of them would "physically put on their dirty clothes, go down into the basement and actually perform the task of completing the inventory?"  As neither had the time or inclination, Mrs. Torrent volunteered that she would solely do the work.  This was a full week before Mrs. Harris encountered Mrs. Chastain and Mrs. Torrent on the street on October 1…........ 
On October 11, 2013 the Clerk of Court forwarded a copy of an inventory to Mr. Vincent (NC Archives) and copied Ms. Chesarino (Records Analyst) and Ms. Torrent (Heritage Society member). Ms. Chesarino forwarded a copy to Ms. Davis who in turn provided me a copy….......Mrs. Torrent forwarded the inventory to Mrs. Chastain in a letter dated October 10, 2013 in which she stated that is was a cursory attempt and by no means a complete inventory of every item in the basement.  In the essence of time, boxes where only inventoried pertaining to the majority contents and date range.  The more than 100 books and ledgers where not included in the inventory as time did not permit their investigation…......... 
On October 18, 2013 Ms. Chesarino emailed Ms. Davis in reference to 3 Register of Deeds Fee Book Ledgers – 1940’s, Numerous Blank Real Estate Ledgers. In Ms. Chesarino’s email she stated, although these records should be destroyed, it is my opinion that the space is unsafe. Sarah West is an environmental health inspector at the Administrative Office of the Courts….......to date, an actual copy of a report on the testing of the mold as to its toxicity had not been made available, though it has been requested on numerous occasions…......She has an appointment to inspect the basement at 9 a.m. on Monday 10/21. I will accompany her on this visit. While we’re there, she could give you advice on the logistics for safe disposal of the remaining Register of Deeds records.

On October 29, 2013 Ms. McGee-Lankford (Government Records…NC Archives) emailed the following reports, copies of which are on file in the Office of County Manager:
(1) preliminary report from the 08/21/13 visit by NC Archives
(2) records inventory provided by the Clerk of Court
(3) report completed by Safety and Health Specialist, Sarah West with NC Administrative of the
(4) letter from Ms. McGee-Lankford. In Ms. Mcgee-Lankford’s email she writes “Based on the inventory provided by the Clerk of Superior Court (see attached) and notes taken by Division of Archives and Records staff (see attached), as well as the environmental assessment provided by Sarah C. West of the Administrative Office of the Courts (see attached),” it is the recommendation of the State Archives of North Carolina that all records listed above be destroyed using proper protocol. The letter grants each of you authorizations to destroy the records in the custody of your office. We urge you to take immediate action to destroy these records. No other disposition is advised, including the donation of the records to a non-government entity for any reason. The health and safety issue concerning these records outweighs all other considerations. Ms. West does an excellent job detailing these health and safety concerns in her report.
Ms. McGee-Lankford reiterated the above and adds in her letter, “The State Archives would have taken some of these records in accordance with established disposition instructions. However, due to the ongoing health and safety issues these records pose to the staff and general public that have access to them, we are requesting that these records be destroyed by the county office responsible for the records. The Clerk of Court will need to seek permission from Sean Bunn at NCAOC to destroy, in addition to the permission to destroy we are granting in this letter. Please prepare an appropriate written Request for Destruction of Records Form AOC-A-119 to be faxed . . .” Further Ms. McGee-Lankford writes These records should be destroyed as soon as possible per North Carolina Administrative Code, Title 7, Subchapter M, Section .0510:”

a) burned, unless prohibited by local ordinance
b) shredded, or torn up so as to destroy the record content of the documents or material concerned
c) placed in acid vats so as to reduce the paper to pulp and to terminate the existence of the documents or materials concerned
d) buried under such conditions that the record nature of the documents or materials will be terminated
e) sold as waste paper, provided that the purchaser agrees in writing that the documents or materials concerned will not be resold as documents or records

Ms. McGee-Lankford stated due to the health risk presented by the records in question, it is recommended that great care be taken in disposing of these records in order to prevent the further spread of mold spores.” Further she stated, “ Our agency does not typically authorize the destruction of records scheduled to come to the State Archives, however, due to the health and safety issues expressed during our initial meeting with county officials (see attached report) and Mrs. West’s report (see attached report) detailing the mold hazard present on and around these records, we are authorizing the destruction of all of the records listed above. Ms. West states in her report ‘I feel that the more these records are disturbed the more the toxins become airborne.”
On October 30, 2013, I instructed Mr. Murray to have Glen Liles (Public Facilities Director) execute the recommendations of Sarah West (Health & Safety Inspector with Administrative Office of the Courts) regarding Courthouse needs.
On November 04, 2013 at a Board of Commissioners meeting, I reported on the status of the site visits made by State officials to Franklin County. I advised the Board of the need to immediately destroy the records due to environmental health concerns. The matter was discussed again with the Board on November 18, 2013. Reports from NC Archives and the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts were emailed to the Board of Commissioners on November 07, 2013.
On November 05, 2013 the Clerk of Court and I participated in a conference call with Ms. Chesarino from Archives. The purpose of the call was to receive specific guidance regarding certain records brought to my attention. The Clerk was provided instruction to photograph said items and Ms. Chesarino agreed to follow up upon receipt of information from the Clerk. On November 15, 2013 Ms. Chesarino emailed feedback concerning those documents to the County Manager and Clerk of Court. The feedback received stated upon examining the photographs provided, it has been determined that the documents in question are not of administrative, legal, evidentiary, or historical value and should be destroyed along with the rest of the records that had been stored in the basement of the Franklin County Courthouse.”…..........These were documents, letters and other items brought forth by Mrs. Torrent and shown to Mrs. Harris in a last ditch effort to persuade her that there were indeed items of value in the basement that were not only of great interest to the community but were also clean and free of any visible mold.  One was a letter from a soldier serving in France in WW 1.  The Archives determined that since they had information that related to his military service that is was of no value and needed to be destroyed.  Their determination was that the information would be of sufficient value to his ancestors and not a hand signed, still in the envelope with the original stamp letter from 1918…......
During the conference call, it was also discussed an inventory was done by NC Archives in 1964. The Clerk of Court made reference to this inventory during our call. I was pleased to learn this had been done. Later that day, Ms. Chesarino emailed me relevant pages of a 1964 inventory of Franklin County official records which included the retention requirements for each category......In March of 1968 renovations to the courthouse required that all offices and records be moved from the building.  Whether or not the basement was included in this move, if the same records in the same order were returned to the basement following renovation or if over the period of 50 years since the 1964 inventory any records were added to or removed from the basement is a question to be left up to county management to address…........ 
On November 15, 2013, the Clerk of Court completed AOC-A-119 “Request for Approval for Destruction of Records” which certified the records listed can be destroyed. She further certified the records had been microfilmed or scanned and were appropriate for destruction. The Administrative Office of the Courts approved the destruction request on November 21, 2013. The Clerk of Court provided me with a copy of the approved request for destruction in order that the County could destroy the Court records when County records were to be destroyed. Please see a copy of the attached approved request........included in the county's blanket order to burn were ALL records in the basement, not just those that had met their retention dates or were deemed to be dangerous due to mold.  How did the late 1800s and early 1900s Chattel Mortgages, Lien Records, Poll Books, Plat books, County Audits, original road, bridge and school bonds, postcards, local business advertisements, news clippings, unopened letters in bundles tied with string, lists of Civil War pensioners and their widows, lists of county employees in 1900 and the jobs they performed, magazines and photographs fall within the category of records with a retention date, confidentiality or sensitive?  These were but just a few of the items that all met same fate, regardless of the fact that many of these items were not of a court or "sensitive" nature…….... 
On November 25, 2013 Mr. Murray emailed the Clerk of Court to advise that a company had been identified to clean…......CLEAN the basement, not burn records…...... the basement and he wanted to make sure the following week was acceptable. On December 02, 2013 Mr. Murray emailed the Clerk of Court again in reference to cleaning the basement   .......CLEANING the basement, not burning records…...... His email read “Is it ok to clean…...CLEAN….... the basement out this weekend?” The next day the Clerk of Court responded via email “Sure it is. I just need to know when and time so I can be here and have it open.”
On December 04, 2013 Mr. Liles emailed Mr. Murray to advise he had spoken with the Clerk of Court December 03, 2013 regarding the destruction of the documents. Mr. Liles indicated he informed the Clerk of Court of the time schedule and said she was “glad to know we were moving forward.”….....third party conversation 
On December 05, 2013, the Board of Commissioners were advised in an email that “Builder Services of North Carolina (Restoration Experts) would be removing and properly disposing of items (records) as well as cleaning the basement beginning the afternoon of December 06, 2013.”….......please note that to this date, neither The Heritage Society or the citizens of Franklin County had been notified that the decision had been made to burn the records. Notice was not given to any of the many volunteers who had worked so hard to preserve these records and the promised notification by Mrs. Harris to the Heritage Society of her decision never arrived…....... Note: Mr. Glen Liles worked this schedule out so as not to inconvenience the citizens since the area would be blocked off and would have caused parking/logistic problems. The project began around 4:00 p.m. and would last overnight and into the weekend….......the parking spots used by the truck, trailer and support vehicle utilized the parking spots in the rear of the court house on Market Street reserved for members of the court staff.  The public uses the front entrance of the courthouse and court staff uses the rear entrance.  No public spaces were blocked to accomplish this cleaning….......... 
On December 06, 2013 Builder Services began work on removing documents and other contaminated materials from the basement. The area was cleaned, tested and sealed. Ms. West, Health and Safety Inspector with the North Carolina Administrative Office of Courts, advised nothing else should be placed in this area after it was sealed. I reminded the Clerk of Court of this instruction due to the fact the area was not climate controlled and would become contaminated again.....….in 1998, contractors installed A/C units in the courthouse (reference County Commissioners minutes June 1, 1998) including a wall based unit in the basement, offering climate control.  These same contractors also drilled a hole through the floor of the upstairs offices and ran a vent pipe to be drained into the basement on top of the records causing the mold..  If, as Mrs. Harris states, the area will be contaminated again, then obviously the original cause of the problem was not addressed in the nearly $8,000 cleanup of the basement….......... The Clerk of Court indicated it was her understanding it could again be used after it was sealed. I suggested she review the recommendation from Ms. West. In a later conversation, she stated she would not place any records in the basement.
Kevin Cherry, Phd, Deputy Secretary, Director Office of Archives and History wrote a letter to the editor of The Franklin Times responding to an earlier article in the paper concerning the destruction of County records. Mr. Cherry commented on the history (110 years) of the State Archives of NC, an agency “charged by statute with the management of all state and local government records created and retained during the normal course of business within North Carolina government offices.” Further, he pointed out that “established professional standards within the state and the archival field across the country” were utilized in reviewing/appraising the records. He pointed out the fact that many records were decades past their retention date, many documents were “duplicates, confidential, drafts, or duplicated in another records series that has been saved.”…........at the onset of our work in the basement The Heritage Society was given an inventory of all of the records retained by the State Archives for Franklin County.  This list was posted on bulletin boards in the basement as well as in the donated offices.  We referred to this list as we began to inventory the basement's contents.  The intent was to check off each item that we found against the inventory to make sure that there were copies already in their collection.  At the point where we were told to "stand down" we had not checked off a single item.  If microfilm exists of any item that was in the basement, information on its location would be greatly appreciated by all…….......   Additionally, it was noted Archives has over 1,066 microfilm reels of permanently valuable Franklin County records.

I hope these facts demonstrate the destruction of records was necessary in order to protect the health and safety of our citizens and staff..............an official report on the toxicity levels drawn from actual testing (and not a visual assessment) of the mold spores in the basement would go a long way in assuring the public that their health was in danger.  If such a report does exist and the mold was determined to be a danger to the staff and citizens, then why has action not been immediately taken and the courthouse closed so that it could be thoroughly cleaned.  In the report offered by Sarah West, Safety and Health Specialist for the NC AOC on October 21, 2013 she stated that the AREAS OF CONCERN included not only the basement but Judge Hobgood's office, the Law Library and the Second Floor.  On December 2, 2013 Judge Hobgood made an appeal before the county commissioners stating that the problem was real and needed to be addressed as soon as possible.  Was the urgency he expressed "interpreted" as immediate action to be taken upon records stored in a basement for 100 years or the hazards occurring daily in the upstairs work environment of staff…..   Access to confidential records would have posed additional liability issues for the County. In retrospect, I believe if arrangements had been made for the site visits proposed by Archives officials to the Clerk of Court on May 29, 2013, the final determination could have been made sooner and a great deal of confusion and disappointment would have been avoided..............In summary, are we the citizens of Franklin County to conclude that the decision to destroy over 100 years of our history was made based on the fact that one individual did not immediately return a phone call six months prior? 

In Conclusion:
From a power-point  presentation including Tom Vincent, Carie Chesarino and Emily Hanna,  Records Management Analyst for the NC State Archives dated April 24:

"Every custodian of public records shall permit any record in the custodian's custody to be inspected and examined at reasonable times and under reasonable supervision by any person, and shall, as promptly as possible, furnish copies thereof upon payment of any fees as may be prescribed by law. GS 132-6(a)"

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mysterious Monday - What's Happening Here?

Back in 2010, I scanned this photo while visiting my cousin, Harold Green, in Louisburg, NC.  As you can see, the picture is "dirty", but still, it depicts a scene of some event, and I believe it may be of significant interest, if I/we could just figure out what that event was!

I posted the picture on Facebook, to the Franklin, Granville, Vance and Warren Genealogy Group, and we've been having a good discussion, there.  Because of that, I thought it would be a good idea to bring the photo here, to get more opinions about it.

I have always thought that this was probably the scene of either a baptism or a burial.  At first, I also wondered if maybe there had (possibly) been a lynching, but I think I'm straying away from that idea.  What I do know/see is this:
1. Almost all of the people appear to be dressed in white/light-colored clothing.
2. There appear to be two main groups of people, walking in opposing directions.  A large group of mostly women are coming up the path toward the camera.  And, a smaller group (of what we can see) of men appear to be approaching the scene from the bottom left.
3. There are two carriages: One looks like it has a flatbed, and the other looks more like it might be a buggy.
4.  A lady with a small child stands alone in the center of the picture.
5.  It looks like there's at least one small child in a basket of some type near the center of the picture.
6.  There is (what we think is) an electric pole with climbing spikes in it near the forefront of the picture (on the right).
This appears to be a baby or small child (with a hat on) in a basket.
It also looks like there are a couple of darker-clothed people in this close up.

Although I can't prove it, I'm sure the setting has to be in Franklin County (Louisburg), North Carolina.  The picture was in an album that belonged to my cousin's grandmother, Mary Helen "Pidgy" Green, who lived from 1876 - 1959.  Other than this, the collection consisted only of family pictures.  This picture was an 8x10.  It was the only one of that size in the album.

My cousin (who is now 89 years old) was very reluctant to show me the pictures, or to discuss family history with me. (More on that, later.)  It had taken me years just to get him to allow me to see these, and other pictures that he has at his home, and to allow me to interview him.  I had taken my scanner with me, and I was going as fast as I could, because I knew that he was going to cut me off (which he did).  I want to try to get him to let me borrow the picture for a short time, so that I can get it professionally cleaned, but first I have to get my nerve up to ask him.

What do you see, and what do you think is happening, here?


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Update #2 - (Finally) A Response from the City Manager

Dear Readers:
I have not been able to read this entire letter.  I got a message about it, and began reading, but I am at work, and my break is ending.  From what I did read (just the first few paragraphs), my sense is that Angela Harris is passing the buck, but I'll come back later with more of a commentary.  Meanwhile, I just want to share this with you, as I know that there are folks who are following along, and waiting for updates.

Please click HERE to read the letter of response from Angela Harris, Franklin County City Manager, regarding the destruction of historical documents in the courthouse basement.

Also, an article was just published in the Raleigh, NC-based News and Observer, yesterday.  I was interviewed extensively for this piece, but none of my comments were used.  (Hmmm...) Special thanks to genea-friend, Angela Walton-Raji, who helped me to tweet the news of this out on the day it was happening.  Certainly, those initial tweets played a significant role in gaining the "international attention" this situation has garnered.

Click here to read my eyewitness account (and first post on the subject) of what happened on December 6th, when (my) history was destroyed in Franklin County.

Click here to read the brief update I shared a month later, following a Franklin County Commissioners Meeting, during which several citizens spoke and inquired about the destruction of the records.

Thanks for reading.  Your comments are welcome!


Click HERE to read a final UPDATE on this very sad situation.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Update on Destroyed Records in Franklin County, NC

The last several weeks have been tough ones for me. Although I've tried to keep up with all that's been going on in the genea-world, I've mostly done so quietly - not silently, but quietly. :)  However, because I'm somewhat front and center to the situation of the destroyed (burned) documents in Franklin County, NC, and since I wrote a post about what happened there on December 6, 2013, I feel the need to update any of my readers, who may not be aware of the what has transpired, since.

On that fateful day, as the records began to be brought out of the courthouse basement, I, along with another member of the Franklin County Heritage Society, stood helplessly by and watched.  It was then that I put out the first tweet, thus alerting others in the genea-world about the devastating action which was taking place.  Just a few hours prior to that, I'd received an email from the Heritage Society, stating that someone had heard that the records would be removed and destroyed, that day.  I just happened to be in Louisburg that day, handling some business related to the recent death of my aunt.  As I was on my way out of town, I decided to go by the courthouse to see if anything was happening.  When I pulled up to the courthouse, this is what I saw.
Although the information I'd gotten had implied that the deed was going to be done earlier in the day, when I pulled up to the courthouse at approximately 4:40 that afternoon, the company was just getting set up to begin carrying out the work they'd been hired to do: remove EVERYTHING from the basement room of the Franklin County Courthouse. The first newspaper account of this awful incident was posted the following Thursday, December 12th, in the Franklin Times, the county's weekly newspaper.  (Unfortunately, the public can't access past articles without a subscription, but the full text of the article will be posted below.) Another article was written in today's Times.  This link should work for one week.  http://www.thefranklintimes.com/index.php (Still, you have to subscribe to see the second page.)

The records were removed, and were taken to the incinerator at the county animal shelter to be burned over the course of the next few days.  Since then, as a result of the wide-spread Internet share-cycle that's taken place (via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and genealogy sites), much attention is being focused on Franklin County. Researchers all over the country are deeply saddened and quite angry about this, and are lending their voices to the discussion, as well as directing commentary to the Franklin County officials, and the North Carolina Archives, who also played a role in this. 

Although there have been several blog posts written, and many Facebook comments and posts, what I want to share here are, perhaps, the most poignant of the responses to the burning of these precious historical documents.  These are video snippets from the Franklin County Commissioners Meeting, which was held on Monday, January 6, 2013.  At this meeting, several concerned citizens, including some members of the Franklin County Heritage Society, came face to face with the County Manager, Angela Harris, who ordered the records to be removed and burned, and were able to personally ask her the question that has all of us baffled; WHY???

Annette Goyette of the Franklin County Heritage Society
          Source: youtube via Franklin County NewsOnline

      Citizens express anger towards City Manager, 
      Angela Harris for destroying historical records.  
            Source: youtube via Franklin County NewsOnline

I'm proud of all of the speakers who went before the commissioners on Monday night.  It took a lot of "gumption" for them to come forward in this small town, where repercussions can come easily.  Some of the speakers have asked for an apology from the County Manager, and others asked for an explanation. But, at least one citizen called for Angela Harris' resignation.  I'm inclined to side with him; Angela Harris needs to burn her contract, just as she did my history.

As always, thanks for reading!

Here is the text of the first article that was printed in the December 12, 2013 edition of the Franklin Times.
By Carey Johnson
The Franklin Times

LOUISBURG — For decades, at least, records dating back hundreds of years had been stored in less than ideal circumstances in the county courthouse basement.  But four months after the Heritage Society of Franklin County procured a place to store the documents and formulated a plan to preserve them, county management had the records burned at its animal shelter.“We felt like we were stabbed in the back,” said Heritage Society President Patricia Leonard, who watched helplessly as a Creedmoor commercial restoration company, specializing in water and flood damage, boxed up the documents for a trip to the animal shelter —  where they were burned in the same chamber that was once used to dispatch of cats and dogs.

According to heritage society members, the clutter in the basement was discovered in the spring when newly appointed Clerk of Court Patricia Chastain examined the basement, apparently with the aid of Heritage Society members. The basement, which had been damaged by flood and mold, had become a depository for overflow records awaiting retention dates as well as other items deemed unnecessary or non-vital.They were then forgotten, heritage society members said.
The basement was also used for storage of other kinds of items, including old furniture and cleaning supplies. But a quick investigation of the records revealed boxes from most every department in Franklin County government, from the Register of Deeds, county finance, board of education, sheriff’s office, county jail and elections board. Quickly, said Heritage Society member Dianne Torrent, it was determined that the records were worth saving. One of those documents, Torrent said, was a hand-written letter from a soldier making sure his estate and his sister was being taken care of while he was away.  Torrent said that state archives staff told members that they had documentation of the soldier’s service, so the letter, itself, was of no value to them.  “Ask yourself, if you were that soldier’s family, what would you rather have? The information, or the letter in your hand?”

Because of the county’s decision, Torrent said, documents like that are gone, forever. “A time capsule of our history is gone, now,” she said. “The question I’ve asked (of the county) is can they live with the question of  what did you destroy?”

Although Chastain serves as Clerk of Court, the county owns the building and is responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.County management, heritage society members said, made the decision to destroy the documents.County Manager Angela Harris said she took action at the recommendation of state archives and court system staff.“All of the documents had retention dates that expired many years ago,” Harris said. “Due to the overall conditions,  we were given the advice to take immediate action and we did.”
According to County Finance Director and Director of General Administration, Chuck Murray, the county paid Builder Services $7,424.51.  Over a three-day period, beginning at about 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 6, Builder Services workers boxed up documents for transport. The company also did some  soda blasting, a process in which sodium bicarbonate is applied against a surface using compressed air.
The ceiling was sealed, a door was painted and the air was scrubbed — a process by which air particulates are removed.  

Heritage Society members said they were not given a reason as to why the county moved as quickly as it did.  However, the State Office of Archives and History and the Administrative Office of the Courts had visited the basement and, by November, said relocation efforts would be futile because they had been damaged by mold.
That didn’t stop the state from taking materials that the Heritage Society had boxed up themselves from efforts to preserve records before county management told them they were no longer welcome in the basement.
Those documents, though, are being kept separate from other items in Archives, county staff said. The frustration, Heritage Society members said, is that  they were willing to preserve documents, at their own cost and own risk.  They had a place to keep them for six months and plans to digitize them and be done with the project in that time.  And, initially, the county had agreed to pay the uility bill for the donated space until it backed out of plans to preserve the documents.  “We were ready to go,” Torrent said. “The county gave us six months of electricity.  “We would have been done,” she said, “but they kept putting up stumbling blocks.  “The entire thing culminating in them destroying the records.”

It was a particularly crushing blow for Renate Sanders, a Heritage Society member and Virginia resident with nearly two decades of experience in genealogical research.  She has familial ties to Franklin and Warren counties, through both freed African-Americans, slaves, white people and others in between. Finding older documentation is difficult, she said. Finding information about former slaves is increasingly so.  Being able to peruse the documents in the courthouse basement, she said, provided a glimmer of hope that more of her roots could be discovered.“To me, it’s just devastating that something could have been burned that I will never have any exposure to,” she said.  She, like Leonard, could only sit idly by as a county contracted crew removed documents before they were burned at the shelter. “I just want people to know how very sad and disappointed everyone in research  community is,” she said. “There are people all over the country who are aware of this and are hurt and heartbroken.”  Sanders said she questions the legality of the county’s decision to destroy the records. And their motives, particularly, if the county was interested in hiding certain information.

There was no vital information, such as birth certificates or anything that members came across during their first foray into the basement.  And while there were documents from a number of departments in the basement, the Heritage Society, Torrent said, was more than willing to adhere to any chain of command the county required to make sure any sensitive information did not become public.  But, she said, that didn’t stop county staff, she alleges, from going into the basement and removing some items themselves. The discussion about sensitivity, Torrent said, “was just another stumbling block to slow down the process.” Now, with the documents destroyed, Leonard said the focus will be on making certain that history doesn’t repeat itself.

“This has stirred the will of many folks to get the Sunshine Laws changed,” Leonard said. “We hope within the next year or two, we can get some of our representatives and state senators to reword and change the law where the archives can have some records, the county can have some and there be a third choice. If a county doesn’t want them, if there is a historical society, they will have the ability to acquire those records. Because, when they’re gone, they’re gone."

The  Franklin Times, Louisburg, NC 27549, December 12, 2013

To read the next update, please click HERE.

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