Document Retention Policies and Recommendations
By Ross V. Smith, attorney, Farrar & Bates, LLP
Municipal government officials across our state are continually learning about the importance of the Tennessee Public Records Act ("TPRA") and its far-reaching implications. The Tennessee Supreme Court has characterized the TPRA as "an all-encompassing legislative attempt to cover all printed matter created or received by government in its official capacity."1 The TPRA itself dictates that courts are to "broadly construe" its provisions so as to "give the fullest possible public access to public records."2
Most employees are aware of the TPRA due to its requirements that public records be made available for inspection by citizens. However, there are also provisions dictating the entity's responsibilities in maintaining those public records. It is therefore important to understand your responsibilities with regard to retaining public records.
The TPRA does not expressly state that all public records must be retained for archival value. However, there are a myriad of reasons for retaining records. First, federal law may require that you maintain payroll records, employment-related records, disciplinary records, etc. in order to comply with items such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, or Occupational Safety and Health Act.3 Additionally, Tennessee law may dictate when certain officials within local governments must preserve public records. For example, Tenn. Code Ann. § 6-4-203 requires that a City Recorder "preserve in the recorder's office … the public records, … papers and documents not required by this charter or by ordinance to be deposited elsewhere, and register them by numbers, dates and contents, and keep an accurate and modern index of such material."4
In order to aid municipalities with organizing and implementing document retention policies, Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-702 expressly directs the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) "to compile and print … records retention manuals which shall be used as guides by municipal officials in establishing retention schedules for all records created by municipal governments in the state."5 Municipalities may dispose of physical copies of records if they have been preserved in another medium or when the retention schedule in use has expired.
As a result of the foregoing, MTAS maintains a document titled "Records Management for Municipal Governments." This document may be accessed by visiting the MTAS website at:
I encourage you to review these retention schedules and adopt a records retention policy if you have not already done so. These retention policies will aid you in navigating the ever-changing
world of public records and help mitigate risks of lawsuits associated with failing to disclose public records.
Additional information is available by contacting the Office of Open Records Counsel at 1-866- 831-3750 or visiting https://www.comptroller.tn.gov/openrecords.
- Griffin v. City of Knoxville, 821 S.W.2d 921, 923 (Tenn. 1991).
- Tenn. code Ann. § 10-7-505(d).
- See 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. (FMLA); 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. (FLSA); 29 U.S.C. § 651, et seq. (OSHA).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 6-4-203.
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-702.
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