Belleville Housing Department wants to purge records

News-DemocratFebruary 2, 2014 

— The Belleville Housing Department's request to purge 110 boxes worth of public records to free storage space has some aldermen and residents asking whether the documents should be kept in the public's interest.

The city wants to destroy various documents, dating from 1955 to 2011, that include electrical, mechanical, building, plumbing and sign permits; electrical license renewals; employees' sick and vacation time requests; administrative files and correspondence; and cash receipts and other claims.

"We're running out of storage space," said Bob Sabo, director of the Health, Housing and Building Department. "Some of these papers go back to 1955 and state law says we can get rid of them after two years. I'm just going by what the state law allows, what we can dispose of legally."

The city already has approval to dispose the records from the Illinois State Archives and Local Records Commission.

The Belleville City Council will revisit the topic at a 7 p.m. meeting Monday after tabling the issue in January.

The state has retention schedules saying how long records have to be kept. For instance, city zoning codes have to be kept permanently whereas building permits only need to be kept for five years after the permit expires.

Still, Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden believes the information is valuable to the public and to the city, in case of a lawsuit. He asked the city to consider scanning and storing the documents electronically.

And, Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle asked: What if someone insists they are licensed but the city no longer has a record?

Ward 4 Alderman Jim Davidson, however, said the city should follow the state's schedule for keeping records because the city can't hold on to every record for 20 years or more just in case of a lawsuit.

Rick Brown, a landlord with property in Belleville, said keeping the records will protect past, current and future residents.

If there was a fire or plumbing issue at a home, for example, a homeowner would want to know if the person who did the electrical or plumbing work was properly licensed, Brown said.

"Just because they can discard the records, it doesn't mean they should," Brown said.

Andrea Alvarez, a law clerk with the Citizen Advocacy Center, said the nonprofit, nonpartisan legal group does not have a recommendation specific to the Housing Department's situation.

In general, the center recommends that government err on the side of retaining records to help with future decision making, Alvarez said.

"We would recommend they follow the law, but when the law falls short, we recommend that the public body retain records," Alvarez said.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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