I.         Introduction

Governments are entrusted with safeguarding citizen's rights, protecting people and property; and performing public works. The work of government is documented through the proper creation, receipt, maintenance, legal disposition and appropriate preservation of public records.


A.         Chapter Objective

The purpose of this chapter is to introduce municipal clerks to the methods available for properly managing public records entrusted to their care, with emphasis on the tools needed to solve record-keeping problems, increase efficiency, improve services and save taxpayer money.


B.         Records Management Definitions

1.         Public Record

            A public record is any paper, written or printed book, document or drawing, map or plan, photograph, microfilm, data processed or image processed document, sound-recording or similar device, or any copy thereof which has been made or is required by law to be received for filing, indexing, or reproducing by any officer, commission, agency or authority of the State or of any political subdivision thereof, including subordinate boards thereof, or that has been received by any such officer, commission, agency or authority of the State or of any political subdivision thereof, including subordinate boards thereof, in connection with the transaction of public business and has been retained by such recipient or its successor as evidence of its activities or because of the information contained therein.  Basically, any information that a public agency generates or receives in the transaction of its official duties is a public record.

            A record should correctly reflect what was communicated or decided, or what action was taken and should be able to support the business needs and the accountability of the municipality. Records can include such items as:

          Financial transactions

          Significant working papers, drafts, and versions

          General correspondence and administrative records

          Personnel and employment documentation

          Web sites

          Electronic media, tapes, disks, hard drives, and portable storage devices

          Electronic messages, including electronic mail, voicemail, texting and social media

          Metadata associated with records

2.         Non-Records

            Non-records are defined as extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience of reference, and stocks of publications and of blank forms shall not be deemed to constitute records. Items that are not records include:

          Stocks of publications or printed brochures

          Preliminary drafts, worksheets, memoranda, and informal notes that do not represent significant steps in the preparation of record documents

          Routing slips or memos that contain no pertinent information or approvals

          Duplicate or convenience copies held for ease of reference and accessibility that are not included on a State record retention schedule (see Retention Schedule below)

          Blank forms, files, and office supplies

          Unofficial notices, unsolicited announcements, invitations, or other materials that are not filed as evidence of official municipality business

            Other terms and definitions related to records management include:

3.         Archival Records

            Records that governments must keep permanently to meet fiscal, legal, or administrative needs of the government (primary value) or that the government retains because they contain historically significant information (secondary value).

4.         Archives

            The non-current records of the municipality preserved due to their continuing value or a place in which archival records or other important historical documentation are maintained.

5.         Destruction Authorization

            The formal documentation that a record has been destroyed. (See Record Disposition)

6.         E-mail Systems

            E-mail systems are software systems that transport messages from one computer user to another.

7.         E-mail Messages

            E-mail messages are electronic documents created and sent or received by a computer system. This definition applies equally to the contents of the communication, the transactional information, and any attachments associated with such communication.

8.         Essential / Vital Records

            Records that are fundamental to the functioning of the municipality. Certain essential records contain information critical to the continued operation or survival of an organization during or immediately following a crisis. Such records are necessary to continue operations without delay under abnormal conditions. They contain information necessary to recreate the municipality’s legal and financial status and to preserve the rights and obligations of stakeholders.

9.         Official Record

            A record or document that is placed on file as the official, often original or approved, version and therefore provides evidence of the municipality’s function, policies, decisions, procedures, operations and other activities.

10.       Permanent

            A record that has been determined to have sufficient historical, administrative, legal, fiscal, or other value to warrant continuing preservation.

11.       Records Disposition

            A final administrative action taken with regards to records, including destruction (shredding, burning, recycling), transfer to another entity (library, museum, or State Archive), or permanent preservation.

12.       Records Group

            See Record Series

13.       Records Inventory

            In records management, an inventory is a descriptive listing of each record series or group, together with an indication of location and other pertinent data. It is not a list of each document or each folder but rather of each series or group. When completed, the inventory should include all offices, all records, and all non-record materials.

14.       Records Life Cycle

            The records life cycle is built on the idea that records have a life similar to biological organisms:  they are born (creation), life (maintenance and use), and die (disposition).  Most records will go through four life cycle stages:

          Creation - Records begin the life cycle when they are created, received, or captured. Examples include correspondence, reports, forms, etc. 

          Active Records – Active records are referred to frequently, at least once a month, and required for current use by the department to conduct its business. These records are managed by each individual department for decision making, classifying and filing. During this stage, records are stored in readily accessible office spaces near personnel using the information.

          Inactive Records - Inactive records are not needed for day-to-day operations. Their retention periods vary. The key to controlling inactive records is a good indexing system to aid in accessing and retrieving needed information.  They should be indexed and moved to an Inactive Records Storage Room.

15.       Records Management

            The field of management responsible for planning, controlling, directing, organizing, training, promoting, and other managerial activities involving the life cycle of information, including creation, maintenance, and disposal, regardless of media.

16.       Retention Period

            A specified period of time that records are kept in a medium or location or successive media or locations to meet operations, legal, regulatory, fiscal and historical or other requirements.

17.       Records Retention Schedule

            The records retention schedule is listing of records series titles or categories, indicating the length of time each record series is to be maintained.  The purpose of records retention schedules is to protect information while it has operational, administrative, legal, fiscal, regulatory and/or historical value.

18.       Records Processes

            The process of controlling records starts at creation, receipt, or capture by classifying the records for easy access and retrieval. 

19.       Records Series

            A group of related records filed/used together as a unit and evaluated as a unit for retention purposes, e.g., a personnel file consisting of an application, reference letters, benefit forms, etc.


C.         Value of Public Records

Public records are resources. They document transactions and decisions of public agencies, safeguard property, register rights and obligations of citizens and their governments, and contain our state's historical heritage. Governments cannot function without public records.


D.         Benefits of Records Management

By using appropriate records management techniques on a consistent basis, municipalities realize demonstrable benefits including, but not limited to, avoiding the costs of unnecessary space, equipment, supplies and labor for record-keeping and processing operations. Sound records management practices will also set the stage for significant service improvements for your municipality and its constituents.


E.         Ownership and Custody of Records

Records your municipal staff create, receive and use in their daily work belong to the municipality and are maintained by municipal personnel for the benefit of the public and government.


All records of your municipality are considered to be owned by the municipality regardless of which department originally created or has physical custody of them. While the municipal clerk is deemed the Custodian of Records within a municipality, the department creating or receiving the material (i.e. from outside sources) assumes day-to-day departmental custodian responsibilities for the municipality (i.e. deputy custodian – see Section III OPRA), unless a documented transfer of custody to another municipal department is performed. Departmental deputy record custodians maintain, secure, and care for records under the guidance of the municipal clerk and in accordance with the municipality’s policies and state laws.

TIP BOX - Since records are owned by the municipality, it is considered a best practice to not allow municipal staff to use home computers or personal accounts to store municipality records. If use of a home computer or personal account proves necessary, the employee must understand that municipality-related records are subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act (see Section III), a court action, or an audit.


F.         Life Cycle of Records

Records must be managed throughout their life cycle, from creation, active use, inactive storage, through to final disposition (i.e. permanent storage or authorized destruction after following approved record retention and disposition schedules).

Using the life cycle model is a helpful way to look at records’ progressive stages and demonstrates the dynamic nature of records as they pass from one stage to another. This dynamic nature requires records to be managed. Taking a static view of records diminishes their value, hinders their management, and may increase risk to the municipality.


G.         Legal Framework for Records

Public records are public property and are held in trust for citizens.  Accordingly, public officials must ensure that records are protected from unauthorized alteration, defacement, transfer or destruction.  This is accomplished through compliance with New Jersey’s general public records law (N.J.S.A. 47), the State’s records management statute (N.J.S.A. 47:3-15 et seq.), and administrative rules under N.J.A.C. Title 15:3 et seq., which enact the standards and procedures mandated by the law.


H.         NJ State Records Management Oversight Structure

There are three state government entities providing guidance to municipalities in managing their records within the State of New Jersey:

1.         State Records Committee (SRC)

            The State Records Committee regulates the retention and disposal of all state and local public records and promulgates related standards.  Created by the Public Records Act of 1953, the committee consists of representatives of (unless otherwise designated):

          State Treasurer


          State Auditor

          Director of Local Government Services

          Chief of Archives

2.         Division of Revenue & Enterprise Services (DORES)

            Operating as an integral unit of the Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services (DORES) of the Department of the Treasury, the State's records management program consists of three distinct areas of responsibility. All program operations are located within the State Records Center, 2300 Stuyvesant Avenue, Trenton.

a)         Records and Forms Analysis

          Appraises records of state, county and municipal governments, and schedules the records for retention, transfer and disposition through the auspices of the State Records Committees

          Offers advices in records management,
files management, office automation, essential/vital records programs, and disaster prevention

          Processes records disposal requests

          Coordinates with the State Archives, assisting in efforts aimed at preserving the State's documentary heritage

b)         Records Storage

          Provides centralized storage of semi-active records for state agencies and authorities and advises all public sector agencies on semi-active records storage options

c)         Image Processing

          Provides systems consultations for image processing projects (microfilm and digital imaging)

          Monitors for image processing standards compliance

3.         State Archives

            The State Archives is New Jersey's official research center for public records of enduring historical value. Many vital records, land documents, probate records and military service papers were filed centrally by the Colony and State of New Jersey.

            Effective July 1, 2012, oversight of the records management, records storage, imaging and micrographic functions of the Division of Archives and Records Management was transferred to the Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services in the Department of the Treasury.



II.        Your Records Management Program

The foundation for successfully managing municipal records is your Records Management Program, which is the structure enabling your municipality to adequately create, manage, and preserve records regardless of the medium (media neutral) of all transactions of the municipality. There are three pillars of a municipality’s Records Management Program: 1) roles and responsibilities, 2) policies and the procedures supporting the established policies, and 3) education and training.


A.         Roles and Responsibilities

Each municipal employee must manage the records they create/maintain in accordance with the municipality’s policies and state laws. Managers and supervisors are responsible for ensuring that their staff comply with established municipality policies.


The following outlines the responsibilities for roles that can be charged with managing a municipality’s records: Municipal Clerk/Records Management Officer, department Records Management Coordinators, and a (optional) Records Management Oversight Committee.

1.         Municipal Clerk

            The municipal clerk is the Records Officer and manager responsible for implementing local archives and records retention programs as mandated by the state.

            The municipal clerk maintains custody of all minutes, books, deeds, bonds, contracts and archival records of the municipality and provides guidance in proper records management practices to all department and those in custody of or are managing any records of the municipality.

2.         Department Records Management Coordinators

            Each municipal department should designate an existing staff member to the role of Records Management Coordinator. This person will act as the department’s liaison to the municipal clerk to oversee the day-to-day records management activities within their respective departments or functional areas.

            Each Records Management Coordinator is responsible for assisting the municipal clerk in implementing an effective records management program within their department/functional area following established municipal policies and procedures.


TIP BOX - Records Management Oversight Committee (optional role)

As an option, a municipality may decide to create a Records Management Oversight Committee to provide guidance and support ensuring the proper policies are established, supported and updated as needed to comply with all applicable state and federal records management laws and guidelines.

The municipal clerk typically is the chair of the Committee. Committee members can include elected officials and department heads, an individual charged with overseeing information technology, and the legal counsel, among others. Duties of the Committee can include:

            Provide advice to the municipal clerk on the development of the records management program

            Work with the municipal clerk to periodically develop a plan that outlines goals of the records management program's operations

            Periodically review the performance of the records management program and propose improvements

            Periodically review suggested revisions to the records management policy manual as needed

            Actively support and promote the records management program among the departments of municipality


B.         Records Management Policy and Procedure Manuals

Each municipality should have two distinct manuals: 1) a Records Management Policy manual; and 2) a Records Management Procedure manual.

While sometimes both policies and procedure may be contained within the same document, best practices dictate that two separate documents be kept since policies are updated at a much less frequency than procedures.

1.         Records Management Policy Manual

            A Records Management Policy manual outlines general records management policies for a municipality, its records management program, and the records management responsibilities of each department/employee with regards to records. The policy manual should be formally adopted by the municipality.

            Policy manuals must be tailored for each municipality. Clerks can leverage DORES, other municipalities and outside records management consultants when developing their policy manuals.

2.         Records Management Procedure Manual

            A Records Management Procedure manual provides the instruction on to how to carry out the steps to support the established policies. Since procedures are more detailed than policies, they tend to change more frequently than policies manuals.

            A critical component of a well-run Records Management Program is to perform periodic reviews to ensure established polices and procedure are being followed. The municipal clerk will work with municipality’s Records Management Coordinators and department heads to conduct reviews of current records retention and disposition schedules, practices and procedures to ensure compliance with established municipal policies and state and federal laws.


C.         Education and Training

Records management is a shared responsibility between municipal staff, department Records Management Coordinators, the municipal clerk, and senior management. All creators of records should be equipped with the necessary skills to capture and manage reliable and authentic records. Programs for training should encompass all users creating and using records while performing their functions.

The municipal clerk shall ensure that Records Management Coordinators and department staff have adequate records management training. 



III.      Open Public Records Act (OPRA)



It is difficult to advise on how to deal with issues on OPRA because the different vicinages can, and will, render different rulings in similar cases.  Always consult with your municipal attorney.  9/15/17

A.         OPRA History.

The Open Public Records Act (OPRA) is a State statute that replaces the old “Right to Know Law” which governs the public’s access to government records in New Jersey. OPRA was enacted to give the public greater access to records maintained by public agencies in New Jersey by balancing the public’s interest in government records, respect for personal privacy, and the efficient process of government. The law is compiled in the statutes as N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 et seq.

OPRA requires that records custodians respond to and fulfill OPRA records request in accordance with the law.


B.         Legislative Findings

Per N.J.S.A. 47:1a-1, the legislature finds and declares it to be the public policy of this state that: Government records shall be readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination by the citizens of this state, with certain exceptions, for the protection of the public interest.


All government records shall be subject to public access unless exempt from such access by:

          P.L. 1963, c 73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented

          Any other statute

          Resolution of either or both houses of the Legislature

          Regulation promulgated under the authority of any state or Executive Order of the Governor

          Rules of Court

          Any Federal Law

          Federal regulation

          Federal order


A public agency has a responsibility and obligation to safeguard from public access a citizen's personal information with which it has been entrusted when disclosure thereof would violate the citizen's reasonable expectation of privacy; and nothing contained in p.l. 1963, c. 73 (c.47:1a-1 et seq.), as amended and supplemented, shall be construed as affecting in any way the common law right of access to any record, including but not limited to criminal investigatory records of a law enforcement agency.


C.         Definitions

Custodian of a government record - in the case of a municipality it is the municipal clerk and in the case of any other public agency, the officer officially designated by formal action of that agency's director or governing body.

TIP BOX - While OPRA provides that the custodian of government records in a municipality is the municipal clerk, OPRA does not preclude a municipality from developing reasonable and practical measures for responding to OPRA requests, which may include the designation of deputy custodians for particular types of records, such as those within departments.


TIP BOX - Although the formal establishment of deputy records custodians by resolution is not a required process, for those municipalities where personnel from other offices routinely answer OPRA requested for their respective office; i.e. Tax Office, Construction Office, Police Department, etc., it is recommended by the GRC that such individuals should be held out to the public as such. This could be as simple as listing their names on the municipality’s OPRA form as a deputy records custodian.

Public agency - any of the principal departments in the executive branch of state government, and any division, board, bureau, office, commission or other instrumentality within or created by such department; the legislature of the state and any office, board, bureau or commission within or created by the legislative branch; and any independent state authority, commission, instrumentality or agency.


The term also means any political subdivision of the state or combination of political subdivisions, and any division, board, bureau, office, commission or other instrumentality within or created by a political subdivision of the state or combination of political subdivisions, and any independent authority, commission, instrumentality or agency created by a political subdivision or combination of political subdivisions.


D.         Records Exempt from Disclosure by Statute:

1.         By Statute:

a)         Inter-agency or intra-agency advisory, consultative or deliberative material.

b)         Legislative Records – information received by a member of the Legislature from a constituent or information held by a member of the Legislature concerning a constituent, including but not limited to information in written form, or contained in any e-mail, computer database or telephone record, unless it is information the constituent is required by law to transmit. Any memorandum, correspondence, notes, reports or other communication prepared by or for, the specific use of the member’s official duties, except that this provision shall not apply to a publicly-accessible report which is required by law to be submitted to the Legislature or its members.

c)         Law enforcement records:

          Medical examiner photos

          Victim’s records, except that a victim of a crime shall have access to the victim’s own records.

          Criminal investigatory records, except:

o          Where a crime has been reported but no arrest yet made, information as to the type of crime, time, location and type of weapon

o          Where a crime has been reported and an arrest has been made, information as to the name, address and age of any victims unless there has not been sufficient opportunity for notification of next of kin of any victims of injury and/or death to any such victim or where the release of the names of any victim would be contrary to existing law or court rule. In deciding on the release of information as to the identity of a victim, the safety of the victim and the victim's family, and the integrity of any ongoing investigation, shall be considered;

o          When an arrest has been made, information as to the defendant's name, age, residence, occupation, marital status and similar background information and, the identity of the complaining party unless the release of such information is contrary to existing law or court rule;

o          Information as to the text of any charges such as the complaint, accusation and indictment unless sealed by the court or unless the release of such information is contrary to existing law or court rule;

o          Information as to the identity of the investigating and arresting personnel and agency and the length of the investigation;

o          Information of the circumstances immediately surrounding the arrest, including but not limited to the time and place of the arrest, resistance, if any, pursuit, possession and nature and use of weapons and ammunition by the suspect and by the police; and

o          Information as to circumstances surrounding bail, whether it was posted and the amount thereof.

o          Where it shall appear that the information requested or to be examined will jeopardize the safety of any person or jeopardize any investigation in progress or may be otherwise inappropriate to release, such information may be withheld. This exception shall be narrowly construed to prevent disclosure of information that would be harmful to a bona fide law enforcement purpose or the public safety.  Whenever a law enforcement official determines that it is necessary to withhold information, the official shall issue a brief statement explaining the decision.

d)         Trade secrets and proprietary commercial or financial information.

e)         Any record within the attorney-client privilege. 

f)          Administrative or technical information regarding computer hardware, software and networks, which, if disclosed would jeopardize computer security.

g)         Emergency or security information or procedures for any buildings or facility which, if disclosed, would jeopardize security of the building or facility or person therein.

h)         Security measures and surveillance techniques which, if disclosed, would create a risk to the safety or persons, property, electronic data or software.

i)          Information which, if disclosed, would give an advantage to competitors or bidders.

j)          Information generated by or on behalf of public employers or public employees in connection with:

          Any sexual harassment complaint filed with a public employer

          Any grievance filed by or against an employee

          Collective negotiations documents and statements of strategy or negotiating

k)         Information that is a communication between a public agency and its insurance carrier, administrative service organization or risk management office.

l)          Information that is to be kept confidential pursuant to court order.

m)        Certificate of honorable discharge issued by the United States government (Form DD-214) filed with a public agency.

n)         Social security numbers.

o)         Credit card numbers.

p)         Unlisted telephone numbers.

q)         Drivers’ license numbers.

r)          Certain records of higher education institutions:

          Research records

          Questions or scores for exam for employment or academics

          Charitable contribution information

          Rare book collections gifted for limited access

          Admission applications

          Student records, grievances or disciplinary proceedings revealing a student’s identification

s)         Biotechnology trade secrets.

t)          Convicts requesting their victims' record.

u)         Ongoing investigations of non-law enforcement agencies (must prove disclosure is inimical to the public interest)

v)         Public defender records.

w)        Upholds exemption contained in other State or federal statutes and regulations, Executive Order, Rules of Courts, and privileges created by State Constitution, statute, court rule or judicial case law.

x)         Personnel and pension records, except specific information identified as follows:

          An individual’s name, title, position, salary, payroll record, length of service, date of separation and the reason for such separation and the amount and type of any pension received.

          When authorized by an individual in interest.

          Data contained in information which disclose conformity with specific experiential, educational or medical qualifications required for government employment or for receipt of a public pension, but not including any detailed medical or psychological information.

2.         By Executive Order:

a)         Records where inspection, examination or copying would substantially interfere with the State’s ability to protect and defend the State and its citizens against acts of sabotage or terrorism, or which, if disclosed, would materially increase the risk or consequences of potential acts of sabotage or terrorism.

b)         Records exempted from disclosure by State agencies' rules.

c)         Certain records maintained by the Office of the Governor.

d)         Resumes, applicants for employment or other information concerning job applicants while a recruitment search is ongoing.

e)         Records of complaints and investigations undertaken pursuant to the Model Procedures for Internal Complaints Alleging Discrimination, Harassment or Hostile Environments.

f)          Information relating to medical, psychiatric or psychological history, diagnosis, treatment or evaluation.

g)         Information in a personal income or other tax return.

h)         Information describing a natural person’s finances, income, assets, liabilities, net worth, bank balances, financial history or activities or creditworthiness, except as otherwise required by law to be disclosed.

i)          Test questions, scoring keys and other examination data pertaining to the administration of an examination for public employment or licensing.

j)          Records in the possession of another department (including New Jersey Office of Information Technology and State Archives) when those records are made confidential by regulation.


E.         Access Availability

Per [N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5], the custodian of a government record shall permit the record to be inspected, examined and copied by any person during regular business hours; or in the case of a municipality having a population of five thousand (5,000) or less according to the most recent federal decennial census, during not less than six (6) regular business hours over not less than three (3) business days per week or the entity's regularly-scheduled business hours, whichever is less.


F.         Request for Public Records

All requests for public records pursuant to OPRA must be in writing.

1.         The Requestors Must:

          Name specific identifiable government records

          Be as specific as possible identifying type of records, dates, parties to correspondences, subject matter, etc.


OPRA request shall utilize the forms provided by the record’s custodian; however, no custodian shall withhold such records if the written request, not provided on the official form, contains the requisite information as required by law.


2.         Broad and/or Unclear Request.

          If a request does not name specifically identifiable records or is overly broad, a custodian may deny access.

          A custodian may also seek clarification.

TIP BOX – Examples of broad and/or unclear OPRA requests:

Overly broad – “Any and all records related to the construction of the new municipal swimming pool facility.”

Valid request – “Any and all letters between John Doe and Jane Jones regarding the construction of the new municipal swimming pool facility from January 1, 2008 to December 15, 2008."

3.         Search vs. Research

            The records custodian is obligated to search their files to find the identifiable government records listed in the OPRA request. However, the custodian is not required to research their files to figure out which records, if any, might be responsive to a broad and unclear OPRA request.


G.         Responding to an OPRA Request

A custodian shall grant or deny access as soon as possible, but no later than seven (7) business days after the request is received. A custodian unable to comply with a request must indicate in writing specific reasons. A custodian must provide a response to each item requested by granting or denying access, seeking clarification or requesting additional time.

1.         Seven (7) business days.

            Records custodian has seven (7) business days to grant or deny an OPRA request, unless a shorter time period is otherwise provided by statute, regulation, or executive order.

            Day one (1) is the day following the custodian's receipt of the request.


2.         Immediate Access

            A records custodian must grant immediate access to:





          Government employee salary information

            Immediate access means immediately as soon as possible, on the spot. Exceptions to immediate access:

          Records are in storage

          Records are in use

          Records require a medium conversion

            If a custodian cannot provide immediate access to records, the custodian must provide a written explanation and request a time extension from the requestor.


3.         Extension of Time to comply with a request

          Custodian can request an extension of the seven (7) business day deadline

          Such a request shall be in writing and provide an anticipated date when the records will be provided

          Failure to grant or deny access by the extended deadline date results in the request being deemed denied.


4.         Denying an OPRA Request

          Must be in writing to the requestor.

          Must identify the specific legal basis for a denial of access.


H.         Medium Conversion

A custodian must permit access to government records in the medium requested.

If the custodian does not maintain the record in the medium requested the custodian must:

          Convert the record to the medium requested; or

          Provide a copy in some other “meaningful” medium. (meaningful to the requestor)

Conversion Cost: The custodian may impose a special charge related to the conversion for extensive use of technology and labor for programming, clerical and supervisory assistance that may be required. But if the conversion is completed in-house, there is generally no charge. If an outside vendor is required, seek estimates and provide requestor with estimates for approval or rejection. The charge for conversion must be actual cost.


I.         Copying Cost

1.         Basic per page copy fees, actual cost not to exceed:

          8 ½ x 11;                     $0.05 per page

          8 ½ x 14 or larger;       $0.07 per page

            Any public agency whose actual costs to produce paper copies exceed the $0.05 and $0.07 rates may charge the actual cost of duplication. Electronic records must be provided free of charge (i.e. records sent via e-mail and fax). Every public agency must charge the actual cost to provide records in another medium (i.e. computer disc, CD-ROM, DVD). No fee shall be charged to a victim of a crime for a copy or copies of a record to which the crime victim is entitled to access.

            If a public agency can demonstrate that its actual costs for duplication of a government record exceed the foregoing rates, the public agency shall be permitted to charge the actual cost of duplicating the record. The actual cost of duplicating the record, upon which all copy fees are based, shall be the cost of materials and supplies used to make a copy of the record, but shall not include the cost of labor or other overhead expenses associated with making the copy except as provided for in section I. below. Access to electronic records and non-printed materials shall be provided free of charge, but the public agency may charge for the actual costs of any needed supplies such as computer discs. (N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5)


2.         How to Calculate Actual Costs

            Municipalities should contact their supplies vendor (where you obtain your supplies) to determine the cost of paper and toner.

            Calculate or contact copying company to determine the agency's annual copying volume (calendar or fiscal year, however the agency operates). This does not only include copies pertaining to OPRA requests - this is all copying on all copy machines in the agency for all purposes.

            Contact copying company to determine the average paper life of one toner/ink cartridge (i.e. how many pieces of paper the ink or toner should be able to copy).

            Custodian must maintain documentation of all information provided by copying company or office supplier (i.e. contracts or correspondence from purchasing agent or copying company) regarding this calculation.

            Actual calculation is the total cost of paper purchased for 1 year (calendar or fiscal) + the total cost of toner purchased (calendar or fiscal) ÷ the annual copying volume.

            This calculation can be averaged for all copy machines in an agency that produce letter and legal copies. Special copiers, such as for color printing or blueprints copied in house, should be calculated separately.


J.         Special Service Charge

Special Service Charge - whenever the nature, format, manner of collation, or volume cannot be reproduced by ordinary document copying equipment in ordinary business size or involves an extraordinary expenditure of time and effort to accommodate the request, the public agency may charge in addition to the actual cost of duplicating the record, a special service charge that shall be reasonable and shall be based upon the actual direct cost of providing the copy or copies; provided, however, that in the case of a municipality, rates for the duplication of particular records when the actual cost of copying exceeds the foregoing rates shall be established in advance by ordinance. The requestor shall have the opportunity to review and object to the charge prior to it being incurred. (N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5)

Actual direct cost means the hourly rate of the lowest level employee capable of fulfilling the request and does not include fringe benefits.

Only warranted when:

          Copies cannot be reproduced by ordinary copying equipment in ordinary business size.

          Accommodating request involves an extraordinary expenditure of time and effort, including inspection of records.


K.         Redactions to Public Records

Redaction means the editing of a record to prevent public viewing of material that should not be disclosed. Words, sentences, paragraphs or whole pages may be subject to redaction.

Custodians must identify the legal basis for each redaction. If full pages are to be redacted, the custodian should give the requestor a visible indication that a particular page was redacted, such as blank sheet bearing the words "paper redacted."


L.         Denial of Record Appeal Notice

The custodian shall prominently post in public view in their office the Denial of Record Appeal Notice. The Notice indicates the right to appeal a denial of, or failure to provide access to a government record and the procedures by which an appeal may be filed.


M.        Appeal Process

Per N.J.S.A. 47:1A-6, a person who is denied access to a government record by the custodian may:

          Institute a proceeding to challenge the custodian's decision by filing an action in Superior Court which shall be heard in the vicinage where it is filed by a Superior Court Judge who has been designated to hear such cases because of that judge's knowledge and expertise in matters relating to access to government records; or

          In lieu of filing an action in Superior Court, file a complaint with the Government Records Council.

The public agency shall have the burden of proving that the denial of the access is authorized by law. If it is determined that access has been improperly denied, the court or agency head shall order that access be allowed. A requestor who prevails in any proceeding shall be entitled to a reasonable attorney's fees.


N.         Government Records Council (GRC)

There is established within the Department of Community Affairs a Government Records Council, consisting of the Commissioner of Community Affairs or his designee, the Commissioner of Education or his designee, and three public members appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the senate, not more than two of whom shall be from the same political party. The public members shall not hold any other state or local elected or appointed office or employment while serving. Per N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7, they are responsible for:

          Establishment of an informal mediation program regarding disputes of access to government records

          Receive, hear, review and adjudicate a complaint concerning denial of access to a record

          Issue advisory opinions as to whether a particular type of record is a government record accessible to the public

          Prepare guidelines and informational pamphlet for use by records custodians

          Prepare an informational pamphlet explaining the public's right of access to government records and the methods for resolving disputes regarding access

          Prepare lists for use by records custodians of types of records in the possession of public agencies which are government records

          Make training opportunities available for records custodians, public officers and employees regarding access to public records

          Operate an informational website and a toll-free helpline during regular business hours for use by custodians or the public


O.         Violations, Penalties, Disciplinary Proceeding

A public official, officer, employee or custodian who knowingly and willfully violates p.l. 1963, c. 73 (c.47:1a-1 et seq.), as amended and supplemented, and is found to have unreasonably denied access under the totality of the circumstances, shall be subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 for an initial violation, $2,500 for a second violation that occurs within ten (10) years of an initial violation, and $5,000 for a third violation that occurs within ten (10) years of an initial violation [N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11]).



·         Read the law and follow it.

·         When confused, call the GRC, your municipal attorney, your State and County Associations for direction.

·         Stay within the OPRA time constraints, and stay in contact with the requestor. These are two of the easiest things you can do to meet compliance!

·         Document EVERYTHING and keep it filed appropriately.

·         Maintain a "Request Log" and keep it updated.

·         Keep your reference material on hand at all times, and be sure it's current. Check your sources.




          THE OPEN PUBLIC RECORDS ACT, P.L. 2001, C. 404.




IV.       Records Retention & Disposition

As stated earlier in this chapter, records must be managed throughout their life cycle, from creation, active use, inactive storage, through to final disposition (i.e. permanent storage or authorized destruction after following approved record retention and disposition schedules).

In order to properly manage records, one has to first know what records exist. This is done by conducting an inventory of all municipal records held by the departments as well as any third-party (e.g. vendor contracted to stored inactive records, attorney contracted for legal services, etc.).


A.         A Records Inventory

A records inventory is a complete listing of records by record series, together with necessary descriptions and supporting information.

Remember - any information that a municipality generates or receives in the transaction of its official duties is a public record - regardless of the medium used to store the information (e.g. paper, microfilm, magnetic disk, etc.) and includes duplicates or copies. While the majority of the information provided within this section applies to both paper and electronic records, more information regarding inventorying electronic records will be discussed later within this chapter.


B.         Conducting an Inventory

With the guidance of the municipal clerk, each department Records Coordinator, who in turn works with their department head and key supervisors, must examine each functional group within their respective areas to identify the records they receive, create and/or store.


TIP BOX - A key to an effective and efficient inventorying process is the application of the records series concept. For example, consider a common record series like “correspondence.” For records inventorying purposes, there is no need to know who generated or received a particular letter or memorandum, nor what subject matter was discussed. This is equally true for any other examples of record series held by municipal offices, such as purchase orders, travel vouchers, cancelled checks, personnel records, etc.  In all cases, the records inventory is not concerned with the particular details of content.

The following is some of the basic steps to begin the typical physical record inventory process:

          For each department, pick one functional area/process performed by the department at a time (although all have to be addressed)

          Focus on the general function and overall content of records

          Identify format (e.g. paper, electronic, microfilm/microfiche)

          Identify the filing location and filing organization method used

          Ask how often the records series is referenced a day/week/month

          Indicate the current volume (e.g. # of drawers, boxes, shelf space)

          Annual accumulation


Information to be collected can be found on a sample record series inventory form, located on the DORES’ web site at:


C.         Analyze the Inventory

The information you collect as a part of the inventory process has many benefits and is not used exclusively for retention scheduling. Such information becomes crucial to other aspects of managing records:

·           Accumulation rates are a factor in deciding whether to convert a record series to another medium such as digital images

·           Filing organization methods may illustrate problems with retrieval

·           Frequency of use, i.e., reference rates, will determine when to place records in inactive storage

Possible questions to ask are:

·           Which records can be disposed of?

·           Which records can be moved to an inactive record storage area?

·           Which records may be microfilmed or digitally scanned?

·           How much money you can save in instituting new practices?

·           Are any identified records unnecessary copies?

·           Is there a need for future equipment and/or additional space?

·           Which records may be essential to operations or are historical?


D.         Compare Inventories to Records Retention Schedules

Take the completed inventory forms and compare each record series title with the retention schedules appropriate for that department. Inventoried record series will correspond, with varying degrees of precision, to the State approved schedules. Note:

          Record series common to most offices, such as "correspondence," are listed on a General Schedule

          Records series that result from an activity or transaction that is unique to a given department are listed on a specific schedule or schedules

See the DORES’s web site for the latest revision of the Municipal Clerk Record Retention Schedule at:

When titles and descriptions on the inventory match exactly or sufficiently with titles and descriptions on Record Retention Schedules, proceed with the disposition process.  “Sufficient” matching involves situations in which the title or the description matches, rather than both the title and description matches.

When titles and descriptions cannot be reconciled between the inventory results and the Records Retention Schedule, contact DORES for direction in identifying the proper Record Retention Schedule for the record.


E.         Coordinating Electronic and Paper Files

Municipalities must realize that records can exist in both paper and various electronic formats. Records Management Coordinators and department heads, while working with the municipal clerk, must determine which rendition of a record is the official copy and ensure that the record is properly managed and maintained following approved policies.


F.         Destruction of Public Records

Public Records may be disposed of after their administrative, fiscal and legal value has expired, provided that the statutory procedures are followed. Records scheduled for permanent retention may be transferred to archives after they have become inactive in the department of origin. 

1.         Records Destruction Authorization

            Authorization requirements for records destruction are contained in Chapter 410, Laws of 1953 (Destruction of Public Records Act, [N.J.S.A. 47:3-15 et seq.]) and are implemented through Chapter 15 of the New Jersey Administrative Code [N.J.A.C. 15:3-17 et seq.]

            DORES is the statutory authority for public records and approves the destruction of records which have outlived their value to the public.

2.         Options for Disposition

            Records can be disposed of in one of two ways:

          Physical destruction - through shredding, burning, discarding or deletion/recycling; or

          Transfer of ownership - through awarding custody to a facility or program other than the originating agency, i.e., a county archives, library or museum or the State Archives.

3.         Request for Records Destruction:  ARTEMIS

            As inactive records are identified, place them in standard storage boxes. When ready, with the appropriate Records Retention Schedules in hand, fill in a Request and Authorization for Records Disposal Form through the online ARTEMIS system. 

            ARTEMIS is the Records Retention and Disposition Management System of DORES. The purpose of ARTEMIS is to provide efficiencies across State, County, Municipal and Educational agencies in addressing many of the Records Management functions, processes, and services offered by DORES in accordance with the Destruction of Public Records Act, Chapter 410, PL 1953.

            Artemis is designed to offer the following functions:

          Lookup and download agency specific retention schedules

          Electronic submission of Disposition Request

          Ability to check status of Disposition Request

          Management Reports

            The ARTEMIS form is legally required to document an official request for destruction by all state, county and municipal agencies.  This process ensures that records earmarked for destruction have outlived their value to the public. 

            Check the DORES web site for scheduled instructor led training sessions and online video training for ARTEMIS.

4.         Benefits of using the Disposition Process

          Increases efficiency and safety by removing unnecessary files

          Avoids liabilities and associated costs created by premature, unauthorized disposal of records

          Avoids disruption of efficiency due to gaps in information

          Avoids Irretrievable loss of historical legacy

          Avoids unnecessary expenditures for space, equipment and supplies


G.         How to Destroy Records Once Approval is Received

There is no required way to physically destroy records. You can destroy them yourself or hire a contract vendor.

1.         Methods of destroying approved inactive records:

          Shred (paper)

          Controlled, enclosed burning (paper)

          Erase (magnetic media)

          Recycle (magnetic media or paper)

          Archives (transfer to Archives for permanent storage)

          Deletion of electronic media (E-mail)

            When required, dispose of storage media that housed electronic records so that the media are destroyed in such a way as to obliterate any traces of the content they had contained. In this regard, municipalities can use the policies, standards, and procedures set forth by the Office of Information Technology -- Information Disposal and Media Sanitization (09-10-NJOIT).

2.         Privacy considerations:

            Any potentially confidential or sensitive paper and microfilm records must be shredded so that all information is obliterated. Recycle audio tapes and bulk erase them before discarding. Refer to the above section for magnetic media. For routine records, avoid the embarrassment of having discarded records discovered in inappropriate places. If using a vendor, require the vendor to document that destruction or recycling has taken place. Have the vendor sign a Records Removal and Destruction Order (see DORES web site).


H.         Litigation Support and Legal Holds

At times a municipality may be party to potential litigation or an investigation and as a result may have to produce specific records relating to the request for records or information. While a detailed discussion of litigation holds and electronic discovery (e-discovery) for legal proceedings is beyond the scope of this manual, a mention of the topic is warranted.

Litigation holds and discovery processes may parallel those employed to respond to Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests, audits and internal investigations – all key concerns for New Jersey’s public sector as well. Be aware that OPRA entails program specific formats. In all cases, consult with your legal advisors when dealing with litigation holds and e-discovery.

Put broadly, when a municipality has a reasonable expectation that litigation exists or is imminent, it has an obligation to identify and preserve electronic records (e.g., e-mail, digital images, documents, spreadsheets, etc.) as well as hard copy records, which are relevant to the case. The requirements for identification, preservation, and ultimately, production and presentation of relevant records are likely to be broad. They may span multiple storage platforms such as shared drives, database stores, e-mail systems, microfilm and file cabinets. They may involve multiple individual, and/or cross multiple departments and locations.

1.         Responding to Legal Discovery

            Legal discovery is the action of the opposing party in a lawsuit legally demanding copies of all records related to the issue at hand. Staff should contact the municipal clerk, legal counsel and other appropriate municipal officials according to municipal policies before responding to any legal discovery, or are potentially expected to be subjected to legal discovery.

2.         Outline of Litigation Hold Process

            The following outlines suggested steps to prepare for a litigation hold process.

a)         Create and maintain a support team

            The support team responsible for handling litigation holds typically includes members representing records management, information technology, legal, human resources and line management offices. 

b)         Development and use of a legal hold notice

            Work with your municipality’s legal advisors and senior management to develop a notice format and distribution method to alert all affected parties within your municipality. An example of a legal hold notice is provided on the DORES web site. You may wish to use the same notice format, with basic modifications, for audits and investigations.

c)         Identify/notify records custodians

            Identification of record custodians is part of a normal records inventory and retention scheduling programs. Use this to help identify custodians holding records relating to the legal hold. Make sure any notice to custodians includes basic elements such as clear title indicating the purpose of the notice, name and authority of the issuing office, the basic subject of the notice (e.g., pending litigation), the target individuals, offices, systems and/or hardcopy sources, and the names/types of records, date ranges and response time requirements if applicable.

d)         Identify records

            Use available manual and automated tools to identify the targeted records, including but not limited to: results of your records inventory, records retention schedules, available electronic search tools, and by working with your Record Coordinators and IT support staff among other methods.

e)         Preserve and present records

            Your ability to copy and/or preserve targeted content will depend upon the media and systems you use to capture and store records. Also consider placing segregated/copied records in off-line systems and/or dedicated paper and electronic folders for preservation.

f)          Monitor and manage the hold process

            This involves monitoring the litigation hold through its lifecycle, including tracking of custodian compliance, communicating status and changes in the scope of the records requests, and ultimately closing out and terminating the hold order. Legal and/or human resources staff members are likely to take the lead in this area. However, records management staff and their expertise may be required to assist these staff members.

            Municipalities with a solid records management foundation using techniques described within this chapter will be in a good position to address litigation holds and legal discovery, as well as being positioned for OPRA responses and producing materials for audits and investigations.



V.         Storage and Maintenance of Records

Municipalities must utilize storage methods that will ensure access to records regardless of their format for their full retention period while providing appropriate security and protection measures.  Senior municipal officials must recognize that the long-term storage and maintenance of electronic records in particular has many challenges and requires an ongoing commitment of staff and other resources.

[NOTE: Although much of this section applies to all records no matter the format, some content will apply primarily to paper records. See Section VIII for additional information regarding electronic records.]


A.         Managing Active, Semi-Active and Inactive Records

It is neither prudent nor possible to keep every physical paper record created or received within the confines of most offices. Office space should contain only those records necessary for conducting daily business effectively. Alternative methods of storage are needed for the maintenance of records that are not referred to regularly, but must be kept for administrative, legal or fiscal reasons. Alternative formats will be discussed later in this chapter.

The frequency of record use by a department determines its activity, and consequently its storage and retrieval requirements. For records management purposes there are three categories of records activity: active records, semi-active records and inactive records.

1.         Active Records

            Also called current files, these are records needed to conduct current business matters and should be only those records necessary for conducting daily business.  Reference rates for active records are generally greater than once per month, per file drawer.

            Active records are typically maintained within the office area of the respective departments due to the need for frequent retrieval and accessibility.

2.         Semi-active Records

            These records must be kept for administrative, legal or fiscal reasons, but are not referenced regularly. Reference rates are typically less than once per month, per file drawer. Available space within departments and in other potential record storage locations will determine the most approximate area to house semi-active records.

3.         Inactive Records

            Inactive records are documents which are no longer referenced on a regular basis and tend to be stored in a less accessible place since they are not used frequently.

            Inactive records should be housed when practical in appropriate alternative storage space better suited and more cost effective for inactive records. A department’s primary work space within an office should not be used for inactive record storage.

            If an inactive record is scheduled for permanent retention, it may be transferred to an archives to be preserved for its aesthetic, historical or research value.

            Determining when a particular record series is active, semi-active or becomes inactive is dependent on the particular record and the department(s) needing to access them. Records Management Coordinators, along with the municipal clerk, must determine which records should be transferred to designated inactive record storage areas. Departmental records should be reviewed on an annual basis to identify records eligible for transfer to designated inactive records storage areas.

TIP BOX - As you identify semi-active or inactive records, place each records series in its own storage box. For example, budget work papers and other fiscal year documents could all be filed together, once the fiscal year ends, and be transferred to storage. Mixing different records series in the same storage box is not advisable since it complicates the disposal authorization and removes the benefits of timely disposition if the retention periods of the mixed series are different.


Any inactive record storage space must be approved for use by the municipal clerk to ensure that the space is adequate for the storage of records and has the proper environmental conditions.


B.         Use of Commercial and Third Party Record Storage Facilities

A municipality may decide to utilize a commercial or other third party vendor (both private and government operated) to store records if there is not an appropriate space to house records within the municipal facilities.

Third-party storage vendors charge extra for trucking, receiving, handling, referencing and destruction of records. However, contracted record storage may be less expensive per square foot, and is sometimes the only option available for a municipality with storage space limitations on site.


C.         Record Security

It is the responsibility of all staff to ensure records are properly maintained and secured by following approved municipal policies and applicable state and federal laws. Staff must be familiar with and adhere to the requirements, responsibilities and accepted behaviors set forth in any municipal policies established to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of records in any format (e.g. electronic or hardcopy).

1.         Stored within Departments

            Any departments holding records within their office areas that require extra security, including records containing personal information should be stored in locking filing cabinets or other secure storage area with controlled access.

2.         Stored in Inactive Storage Areas

            Any designated inactive record storage rooms should have access limited to Records Management Coordinators, those designated by Records Management Coordinators, the municipal clerk and those approved by the clerk. Records stored in any designated inactive records storage area remain in the department’s custody and control. Records Management Coordinators must track and coordinate record movement to and from inactive storage areas.

            Confidential inactive records stored outside of a department’s general work area should be stored in a separate secure area from other inactive records and must be maintained with restricted access in accordance with statutory and regulatory requirements.


            Designated inactive records storage areas should be locked whenever there is no ongoing need to enter these areas during the day and locked at the end of each day.


D.         Environmental Controls

Municipalities must strive to ensure that storage conditions for physical records will remain at relatively consistent, moderate temperature and humidity levels throughout the year. The municipal clerk should work with the person responsible for facilities to ensure proper environmental conditions for stored records following DORES guidelines, including:

          Control excessive fluctuations of temperature and humidity

          Control infestation by insects or vermin

          Prevent contamination by dust or other pollutants

          Prevent excessive or improper handling

          Fire detection and protection

Periodic inspections of the storage facility include monitoring for plumbing leaks, standing water and excess humidity. Records storage boxes should be examined randomly for mold, infestation, or other signs of deterioration.


E.         Preparing Records for Transfer to Inactive Storage

For inactive records to be transferred to a designated inactive record storage room, each Records Management Coordinator is responsible for preparing records from their respective department or functional group following approved procedures. Records not housed in approved storage containers nor properly labeled must not be moved to any designated inactive storage area unless approved by the municipal clerk.

1.         Labeling and Identification

            Each record container (i.e. file cabinet, storage box, etc.) must include appropriate labeling to properly identity the record series and record dates within the container.

2.         Records Transfer Form

            Department Record Coordinators must document (on designated form or records inventory management system) those inactive records transferred to inactive storage. This Transfer Form is to be provided to the clerk and identifies the contents of the box, in addition to:

          Physical location of the box

          Unique box identification number

          Record series title and number

          Disposition - dates when the box can be destroyed

F.         Removal of a Box or File from Inactive Storage

Whenever a file is removed from a box held in inactive storage, an “out card” should be put in its place to mark the record which was removed, to record the date of removal, and identify the person to whom the records have been delivered. When a file is returned to a box in the storage area, remove the “out card” and make a notation of the returned date.


G.         Records Management Inventory Tools

To assist staff in the management of records throughout their life cycle, municipalities may utilize software applications and other tools for tracking both paper and electronic records, as approved by the municipal clerk and person responsible for information technology.


H.         Alternatives to Paper: Imaging Processing Systems

As an alternative to retaining paper records, municipalities can use digital and/or photographic images of the paper records. DORES uses the term Image Processing Systems to refer to both digital (i.e. scanned) renditions of a record as well as photographic (e.g. microfilm/microfiche) rendition. Implementing an Image Processing System can offer reliable and cost effective means for managing information resources. 

Most categories of paper records can be destroyed after they have been converted to image formats once an Image Processing System has been approved. Compliance with State standards set forth in New Jersey’s Administrative Code assures the acceptance of imaged records. Rules and procedures that apply to this area: N.J.A.C. 15:3-1 et seq., 3-2 et seq., 3-3 et seq., 3-4 et seq. and 3-5 et seq.

1.         General Objectives of Image Processing Systems

            Image Processing Systems are designed to provide for effective, economical management of records through achieving one or a combination of the following general benefits:

          Public Service improvements

          Space savings

          File integrity


          Faster and more effective retrieval


TIP BOX – When considering the use of Image Processing Systems, refer to the Association for Image and Information Management’s Recommended Practice Report (AIIM ARP1-2009), which provides an overview of analysis, selection and implementation of systems employing electronic image technologies.


2.         Considerations and Choice of Records

            From a technical perspective, be aware that such factors as document size, texture, color and condition determine appropriate formats for Image Processing Systems. From an economic viewpoint, note that conversion of paper records to image format can be expensive, especially without proper analysis and planning.

            From a strategic perspective, critical transaction flows such as permits, tax returns, legal documents, regulatory filings and associated payments offer the greatest opportunities for service enhancements and innovations.

            For more information on electronic alternatives to paper records, see section VIII Electronic Records and section X Enterprise Content Management System (ECMS) later in this chapter.



VI.       Essential Records

Essential records (also referred to as vital records) are those records that are critical to the operation of a municipality and that document the assets of the municipality and the state. Loss of a municipality’s essential records would seriously impair or prevent the municipality from fulfilling its mandated mission.

Traditionally, essential/vital records have been discussed separately from disaster prevention/recovery efforts. But given the critical need to properly protect and access essential records, these two topics should be incorporated into the same discussions and project within your municipality.


A.         Essential Records Defined

While the backup and protection of all records is a critical part of a municipality’s Records Management Program, records defined as essential/vital need a higher level of availability than other records – especially in the event of a disaster. Essential records are identified as part of a standard records inventorying process and is a form of self-insurance that supports the continuity of government operations and helps to preserve the legal viability of the public sector. Essential records can be divided into two categories:

1.         Emergency Operating Records

            These are records vital to the essential functions of municipal for the duration of an emergency and comprise records necessary for the mobilization and protection of material and manpower resources, services, and systems; the maintenance of public health, safety, and order; and the conduct of essential municipal activities.

2.         Rights and Interests Records

            These are records that are essential for the preservation of legal rights and interests of individual citizens, municipal staff and the state government. Examples of these records are personnel security files, Official Personnel Files, and valuable research records.  Each Records Management Coordinator should work with the Records Management Officer and designated municipal emergency response personnel to ensure that these records are adequately protected and available in an emergency situation. 

            Only a very small fraction of a municipality’s records are typically deemed essential. Still, without these records, the daily operations of a municipality would cease, and the public interest would be endangered because of problems such as:

          Vulnerability to litigation

          Exposure to financial settlements or loss of revenues

          Disruption of vital services (health and safety)

          Failure to protect citizen rights (e.g., loss of property records)

          Loss of regulatory records and audit trails


B.         Identification

Each department head is responsible for identifying those records deemed essential to the municipality. Department heads will work with their respective Records Management Coordinator, legal advisors, the municipal clerk, the person responsible for information technology and other senior management to identify essential records.

Published records retention schedules are good sources for identifying essential records. In the context of records classification for essential records, there are four general categories:

          Nonessential Records

            This type of record is listed on a records retention schedule for routine destruction in accordance with statewide guidelines. Loss of these records presents no obstacle whatsoever to restoring daily business.

          Useful Records

            These are records that, if lost, might cause some inconvenience but could be easily replaced.  Loss of these records does not present any real obstacle to restoring daily business.

          Important Records

            This category of records, although replaceable, is reproduced only at considerable expense of funds, time and labor. Loss presents aggravating but surmountable obstacles to resumption of operations.

          Essential Records

            These records are absolutely essential to the continuity of municipal operations and/or protection of the legal rights and obligations of the agency and the citizens it services. These records cannot be lost under any circumstance.

            Examples of essential government records include regularly updated information needed for daily activities such as accounts receivable, tax files (e.g., general tax records, property tax records, property ownership records, etc.), minutes of governing boards, authorities, and commissions, and standing executive orders of mayors or county executives.


C.         Methods of Protection

Estimating the severity of a calamity that could destroy a municipality’s records is a basic step in determining appropriate protection measures for essential records. The three most commonly used ways to secure essential records are duplication, on-site storage and off-site storage.

Records identified as essential generally need to be available on demand such as through a backup data center with instant accessibility. In some cases, even a delay of a few hours or days may prove to be too long for essential records. In these cases, the municipal clerk along with department heads, Records Coordinators and the person overseeing Information Technology will develop the methodology for providing the access to essential records in the time deemed necessary. This could include the use of a variety of technologies and methodologies.



VII.     Disaster Preparedness and Disaster Recovery

From a records management perspective, disaster preparedness and recovery involves the on-going protection of all records (inclusive of essential records) and recovery of these records following a catastrophic event such as a computer system crash, security breach or terrorist attack, or following massive damage to municipal facilities due to a disaster such as a flood, fire or earthquake.

As stated earlier, be sure to integrate disaster preparedness/recovery with essential records management and continuity of operations plans. It is imperative for the municipal clerk, department Record Coordinators, department heads and operational managers to work with their information technology support staff to ensure that a holistic view of these interrelated programs guides decisions about how to institute essential records management.

This section supplements and amplifies information found in the State’s administrative rules.  Rules and procedures that apply to this area: N.J.A.C. 15:3-1 et seq. 3-2 et seq., 3-3 et seq., 3-4 et seq., 3-4.11, and 3-6 et seq.


A.         General Considerations

Effective disaster preparedness requires proper on-site and off-site storage facilities. Align the scope of disaster plans, and the specific coverage techniques adopted, with risks relative to the loss of records stored in essential records systems. This includes consideration of likely threats to the systems and the impacts of lost records in areas such as revenue intake, the rights/obligations of the government and its citizenry, confidentiality, and continuity of essential services for public health and safety. Assess whether the records can be reconstructed via other sources and determine the costs associated with guarding against records loss. Determine the maximum time frame that can be tolerated for recovery (recovery point objective) and how current restored vital records must be – e.g., up to the minute, from last back-up, from last meeting cycle, etc. (recovery point).

Balance the costs of disaster preparedness/recovery programs with the likelihood and impacts of records losses.  Risk assessments help municipalities determine the period of time within which systems, applications or functions must be recovered after an outage, and the economic feasibility of various recovery options.


B.         Responsibilities

The municipal clerk will work with the municipality’s information technology department and senior management to develop and maintain an up-to-date disaster plan that outlines preventive measures currently in place, how to respond to various disasters affecting municipal records, and how to resume business operations as quickly as possible after a disaster occurs. 

The municipality’s information technology staff will be responsible to ensure all electronic records, information systems, and software applications are properly protected to enable restoration in the event of a disaster. Staff and contractors must store records on the municipal’s network rather than on their personal computers or other portable devices.


C.         Disaster Preparedness

Disaster prevention efforts are restricted to essential records protection because records salvage techniques are expensive and time consuming, and therefore, are not feasible for non-essential records holdings.


There are two basic methods to protect essential records from disasters:

1.         Proper Storage Facilities for Essential Records

            Ensure all essential records are stored in proper facilities providing protection against fire, flood, water leaks, fluctuations of temperature and humidity, infestation by pests and vermin, and pollution. Typically, municipalities may not be able to provide this level of record protection for all records (due to cost and available proper storage space), thus the focus is on only those that are deemed essential.

2.         Backup and Off-Site Storage of Essential Records

            Through the use of alternative records formats such as digitally scanning records or microfilm, creation of a backup copy of essential records and storing the backup copy off-site is a proper method to help further protect essential records. Off-site storage locations should be outside of the immediate vicinity of the primary storage site to ensure they are far enough away from a disaster affecting the immediate area.

            For computerized records and database systems, work with your information technology team to obtain off-site back-up and/or replication of essential records that are stored in digital format.

            Although there can never be an absolute guarantee against destruction from a disaster, essential records protection can provide a cost-justifiable strategy to minimize the effects of a calamity. Time and money spent to prevent a records disaster will always be less than the cost of a salvage operation.


D.         Recovery Operations

Despite the steps taken to prevent disaster, systems may fail and records will occasionally be damaged. Plan to recover essential hard copy and electronic records that have been impacted by a disaster. 

1.         Hard Copy Records Recovery

            Once conditions become favorable for records deterioration, reversing damage becomes more difficult as time goes on. For example, mold will grow on wet paper within 48 hours.  Be aware of the following if you must conduct a salvage operation:

a)         Building inspection

            As soon as possible after fire, flood, explosion or other calamity, have officials with expertise in electrical, building and fire safety examine affected facilities for potential hazards and certify their safety.

b)         Communications Center

            In some cases, it may become necessary to set up temporary location in the immediate vicinity of the salvage operation with telephones, walkie-talkies and/or wireless communications devices

c)         Recovery Coordination

            Establish lines of authority and responsibility in a clear fashion. Designate the following:

o          Recovery Coordinator – Assign an appropriate official to oversee recovery efforts.

o          Departmental Record Coordinators – Assemble those Record Coordinators and appropriate department heads with custody of records damaged in the disaster to aid in identification of records.

d)         Logistical Support

            Be aware that staff and equipment will be needed to conduct a records salvage operation successfully. Logistical elements include:

o          Employees – Various support personnel may be required to assist in the salvage operation, including truck drivers, sanitation workers, local police and fire officers, and building maintenance workers.

o          Equipment and supplies – The nature of these items will depend upon the type of records disaster and can include temporary lighting, communications, transportation, tables, containers, and chemicals.

o          Consultants – Contract professionals may be needed to assist in salvage operations. These may include records analysts to identify retention requirements and authorize legal disposition, and an archivist to treat salvageable records or identify future conservation needs.  In some instances, a contract vendor may be required to execute one or more of the salvage methods highlighted in the next section.

2.         Salvage Methods

            The municipal clerk, records coordinators, designated staff and consultants begin to salvage records by:

a)         Determining if a list of the records involved in the disaster exists, and where the list is kept.

b)         Determining if there is an off-site storage location with duplicate records (e.g., electronic back-up files, dispersed paper duplicates, microfilm copies in a records storage center, etc.).

c)         Examining salvageable records to determine:

o          What can be saved.

o          What can be destroyed through the Request and Authorization for Destruction process. State agencies submit Request and Authorization for Records Disposal forms. Municipalities may submit requests on-line.

o          In either of these cases, the identification of record series and their corresponding retention and disposition requirements forms the basis for decisions to save or destroy.

d)         Packing and labeling of salvageable records to ensure continuing identification of the records.

            After these steps have been taken, identify appropriate methods for salvaging vital records. Recommendations depend upon the nature of the records disaster. In either of these cases, the identification of record series and their corresponding retention and disposition requirements forms the basis for decisions to save or destroy.



VIII.    Electronic Records

Each municipality should be dedicated to leveraging information management technologies as appropriate for their respective operations. Electronic technologies provide reliable, cost effective avenues for processing, storing, accessing and managing records. These technologies pave the way for increased productivity, and cost savings associated with reduced staffing, space and equipment requirements, as well as enhanced accountability and greatly improved responsiveness to the public.

At the same time, municipalities must recognize that records and information created, transmitted, received, and maintained electronically have the same legal requirements as all other records. Sound records management practices need to be instituted to ensure with the increased efficiency, your municipality does not put itself at risk. Rules and procedures that apply to this area: N.J.A.C. 15:3-1 et seq. and 3-2 et seq.


A.         Section Objectives

This section provides guidance on how to apply basic records management principles in the context of commonly-used electronic records technologies. The guidelines apply to those systems administered directly by your municipality, as well as to systems administered by third parties on behalf of your municipality, including hosted software applications and electronic mail systems.

The intent is not to address all aspects of electronic records and the technologies, but to provide practical foundation to: 1) Understand the challenges, and 2) Demystify electronic records management.

1.         Understanding the Challenges to Managing Electronic Records

            Municipalities must recognize the challenges of maintaining access to electronic records and be dedicated to allocating appropriate staff and other resources for this purpose. Unlike paper or microfilm, electronic records must not only be stored in the proper file format, but the technology and systems must be present to render an accurate and readable rendition of the records throughout their records retention periods.

2.         Demystifying Electronic Records Management

            As stated above, information technology is constantly evolving and thus easily becomes overwhelming for those not working with technology on a daily basis (and often even for technology professionals too). With the goal to help demystify electronic records management, there are four aspects to keep in mind:

a)         Electronic records follow the same life cycle as paper records

            Managing electronic records follows the same lifecycle as paper records: creation/receipt, active life & inactive life management, retention, and through to final disposition (i.e. permanent storage or authorized destruction after following approved record retention and disposition schedules).

            It thus becomes important to know what records are coming into the municipality already in electronic format and which ones are created within departments that match the definition of a record. This leads us to the next aspect:

b)         Conduct an electronic record inventory

            Just like paper records, you have to know what you have in order to properly manage it. Identifying which electronic information your municipality possesses that fits the description of a record (plus its location and format) must be done.

            Unlike physical paper, electronic records are not as visible and thus appear more challenging to identify on the surface. The focus for inventorying electronic records is more on the software application that generates the record (e.g. financial software) and the device/area where the record is stored (e.g. server, network directory, etc.).

            Department heads and Records Management Coordinators, working with your information technology support staff, must know and document which applications create and/or house electronic records within their respective areas.

c)         Trustworthy Repositories

            In addition to identifying the electronic records and their location, municipalities must ensure that the electronic repository housing the electronic record is trustworthy and has the reliability to maintain the records throughout the records retention period requirements. More information on this is included in the Storage Management and Maintenance section below.

d)         Coordinating Electronic and Paper Files

            Records can exist in both paper and electronic formats. Once you have identified the electronic information that fits the description of a record and its location, then the next step is to determine which format (paper, microfilm/microfiche or electronic) is the official copy of the record.

            Working with the municipal clerk, each department head and Records Coordinator must document which rendition of a record is the official copy and ensure that the record is properly managed and maintained following approved policies and procedures.


B.         Structured vs Unstructured Records

Electronic records formats generally fall into one of two categories: structured records and unstructured records, as described below:

1.         Structured

            As implied by the name, structured records follow a rigid layout and are often described as data stored in fields and rows in tables of a relational database. Financial applications, payroll applications, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications and other database applications used within a municipality are examples of structured records.

            A key determination is whether the records stored in a particular database contains original, official versions or record copies. If a database contains only support information such as abstracts of underlying, complete records stored in image or other formats, the information need only be retained for the length of time it has active administrative value. If the database contains record copies of transactions or other events, plan to apply the following records management principles and practices.

            If a database contains a mix of different record series, use the longest retention period to guide your disposition actions. If you store long term (retention greater than 10 years), permanent or archival records on an electronic system, be sure to address technical obsolescence (see the section on Safeguards Against Technical Obsolescence and System Sustainability later in this chapter).

2.         Unstructured

            Unstructured electronic records consist of electronic information created or obtained by staff where the information is not stored in a database. Unstructured records in a typical municipality would include: office documents (e.g. word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.), e-mail, audiovisual records, websites, photos and drawings, scanned document images, among others.

            Typically, unstructured records require more attention by those tasked with managing records than structure records. This is due to having lesser controls as they are created and where they are stored. Think of how you write, name and file a letter created by word processing software. Whereas a database driven application is controlled by the software itself and limits what can be placed within a database field and where it is stored.

            Similar to paper records, unstructured records need to be identified and filed into a proper records management filing system for ease of locating, accessing, retrieving, and proper disposition. See the File and Organization Methods section later within this chapter.


C.         Metadata - Labels for Electronic Records

Often when discussing electronic records, the term metadata is heard. Metadata is defined as ‘data about data’, providing context or additional information about other data. In practical terms, metadata is similar to labeling a box of paper records. Whereas a box label describes the contents of the box (e.g. records series name, dates, departments, etc.), metadata provides similar information about electronic records. Although what is included as a part of electronic metadata will vary by the system that created the electronic record, metadata can include:

          Names of record creators and editors (those who modify database records)

          Dates/times of entries, modifications and deletions

          Department or functional attribution (organization or function responsible for the records

          Time and date of database creation and update

          System level metadata

          Data element descriptions (via data description language and/or data dictionaries)

            Entity relationship diagrams

          Database management system name and version(s)

          Operating system name and version(s)

Thus it is imperative that metadata is retained with all electronic record filing systems. Not retaining metadata would be akin to throwing all paper records into large, unmarked boxes with no organizational methods used.


D.         Electronic Storage Locations

As a part of the inventorying process, determining the location of electronic records is paramount. Electronic records can be stored internally on devices owned be the municipality (e.g. servers and other media-storage devices) or externally from the physical buildings housing departments and staff as described below.

1.         Internally Stored Records

            Electronic records stored inside a municipality can be located on a variety of devices and media, including:

a)         Personal computers

            Although PCs are what are commonly used to create electronic records, it is not considered a good practice to store records on them since local hard drives may not be routinely backed up and can be out of the control of a centralized IT operation. Information created on a personal computer should be stored on the proper network storage devices. Your IT support organization should review every PC to ensure users are storing their work where it is backed up.

b)         Network drives

            Municipalities use shared and private networked drives to store electronic records and other content such as reference and working materials (e.g., drafts and publications), which are used to produce documents and other formal communications. Although varying by systems used, you may be told to store your files on the “H” drive, “P” drive, “S” drive or some other drive letter. Check with your IT support staff for more information on what drive letters you should use to store files.

TIP BOX - Typically, shared drives contain content in a variety of formats including word processing documents, text files, scanned documents, photographic images, audio and video recordings, spreadsheets, presentations and structured databases. This content can be stored in organized file folders that are arranged in various ways (e.g., by projects, cases, institutional functions, individual employees, discussion groups, etc.).


c)         Mobile devices

            The use of mobile devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, smart phones, etc.) is common in today’s fast paced world. Generally, municipal records should not be stored on mobile devices (except for reference purposes only) due to a greater chance of the device being damaged, lost, or stolen.

            If a mobile device must be used as a part of daily operations of a department, then daily backup or transfer of record data must be performed to ensure the integrity and retention of all records.

d)         Removable media

            Removable media include items such as USB drives (aka thumb drives), CD/DVDs, external or removable hard drive, etc.). Generally, it is not recommended to store records on removable media since the media can be lost or stolen due to their relatively small sizes.

            Removable storage media should only be used for backups, transfer of data, and temporary storage. Records should not be maintained on removable media unless approved by the clerk and information technology staff.

2.         Externally Stored Records

            Electronic records (as well as physical hard copy records) may be stored outside of the municipal facilities at a location not owned or maintained by your municipality. Typically, when records are stored off-site, they are at other government operated locations (e.g. State Archives), or a third-party vendor’s facilities.

(a)        Commercial and Third Party Storage Locations

            In the exploration for more efficient ways to manage electronic information, municipalities must be aware of potential issues involved in handing over custody and control of data to a vendor or to some other government agency.

            Cloud computing, hosting, and data vaulting are a few of the technical terminology used in discussing the management of electronic records systems and their data stored outside of a municipality. Implicit in each of these concepts is the outsourcing of data storage to someone other than the owner of the data.

            Although the term Cloud Computing is a relatively new term, the concept has been in use for decades. Cloud Computing is when remote servers that are accessed thought the Internet are used to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer housed within your municipality. When you are using Gmail, AOL, Office 365 or other service, you are using Cloud Computing.

b)         Responsibility is still with the Municipality

            Even though your municipality’s data may be hosted elsewhere, if the remote system contains records, it is still the responsibility of your municipality to ensure they are protected and accessible. The municipal clerk along with the person(s) responsible for information technology must work together to ensure your municipality follows all applicable state laws for the storage and maintenance of records outside of a municipal facility.


E.         File Formats for Electronic Record Creation and Storage

1.         Open System Standards

            With electronic records and modern technologies, the use of non-proprietary electronic file formats and systems following open system standards (i.e. independent of a particular vendor or supplier) is paramount. Municipal clerks must work with their information technology staff to ensure all systems housing records do not use proprietary formats or systems inhibiting access and portability to other open systems throughout their record retention periods.

            Municipalities must adhere to NJ and federal laws and regulations regarding the creation and maintenance of electronic records, including the following general principle guidelines:

          Municipalities must ensure that records retention requirements are incorporated into any plan and process for design, redesign, or substantial enhancement of an information system that stores electronic records.

          Municipalities must not enter into or renew a contract for the creation or maintenance of records if a contract would impair public inspection or copying.

          When designing your information retrieval methods, whenever practicable and reasonable, municipalities must do so allowing the segregation and retrieval of available items to provide maximum public access.

          Municipalities should consult with DORES as needed when designing its electronic records systems to ensure compliance with the above, other applicable laws and regulations, and professional standards

2.         Native File Formats

            When an electronic system or software application is used to create a record (e.g. a word processing application is used to generate letter or a spreadsheet application is used to create an expense report), the resulting electronic document is considered to be created in a native file format. This means the file was created in a format that is native (i.e. the normal format) to the application in which it was created.

            By and large, the guidelines discussed here stress the use of open systems formats. However, it is important to highlight that use of native (product specific) formats within sustainable automated systems is of vital importance as well. For example, the .docx file format used by newer versions of Microsoft Word is technically considered a proprietary format (i.e. not an open standard format), but is generally safe for short term use and retention (assuming stored in a trustworthy repository as discussed later). Certain file formats are better suited for long term retention as discussed below.

            As long as municipalities provide for controlled and sustained access to and preservation of electronic records within native operational systems, the foundations for long term retention remain in place.

            The following are examples of documents/systems for which storage formats should be reviewed with regards to short term and long term retention needs (each is discussed later within this chapter):

          Electronic mail and attachments

          Scanned images

          Digital photographic records

          Digital drawings (engineering plans and maps)

          Structured databases

          Web sites

          Geospatial Records (GIS)

          Audiovisual records (recordings and transcripts)

3.         Scanned Images of Textual Records

            Digital (scanned) images of public records may be stored on electronic media, and such electronic records may replace paper originals or micrographic copies of these records. In order to ensure accessibility and intelligibility for the life of records that are scanned (aka imaged), municipalities must follow the imaging guidelines of DORES and the State Records Committee as applicable to ensure long term readability of scanned records.

            If document scanning services are outsourced, municipalities must have a contract in place to ensure the scanning vendor follows the appropriate guidelines for quality digital images. Municipalities must verify the accuracy and quality of digital images against the original paper documents.

            To facilitate effective and efficient preservation, processing and access to scanned images of textual records stored in electronic image processing systems, there are three key elements: Image file format, image quality and having a trusted repository.

a)         File Format:

            To ensure that images can be migrated to new or upgraded systems in the future, store them in at least one of the following formats:

          Single-page Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) with CCITT Group III and/or IV compression

          Portable Network Format (PNG) for grayscale or color images

          PDF/A (most especially for long term retention of 10 years or more)

          Open Document Architecture/Open Document Interchange Format (ODA/ODIF) for text

TIP BOX - Recent changes to Title 15 of the New Jersey Administrative Code per subchapter 15:3-4.5, contains updated requirements for standard file formats and compression algorithms, with emphasis on formats and algorithms that are actively supported by the information technology industry, and that allow for the interchange of documents with other systems.

The amendments stated above require imaging systems to store at least one unaltered version of the public records they contain, as scanned, except for standard computer-enhancement routines used to improve the legibility of scanned documents.


b)         Image Quality

            Any scanned records must comply with acceptable image quality specifications and standards (Image Processing for Public Records, N.J.A.C. 15:34 et seq.). Any image processing must follow these guidelines including a separate review process to ensure the captured images meet the stated requirements.

c)         Trustworthy Storage Repository

            In addition to creating a scanned document in the appropriate format and quality, the resulting file must be stored in a reliable and trustworthy repository. For more information on a trustworthy repository, see the Storage and Maintenance section later in this chapter.

TIP BOX - If the scanned records are classified as archival or designated for archival review, contact Records Management Services for further guidance on how to ensure you will be able to transfer the images to an archival facility.


4.         Audiovisual Records and Transcripts

            Municipalities use tape-based and electronic sound and video recording systems to document public proceedings. Such recordings are integral parts of the record keeping practices of courts, governing bodies, and various other agencies that conduct open public meetings. The minutes or transcripts generated from such recordings are public records.

            Officials may prefer to transcribe recorded audio portions of proceedings onto written documents, which, in turn, can be scanned and stored on electronic systems and/or stored on long term microfilm or high-quality, acid-free paper. Verbatim transcriptions or approved summaries of the audio recordings of public proceedings are considered the official or “record copies” of the proceedings.

            In all cases, once a recording of a public proceeding has been created, whether voluntarily or in compliance with statutory requirements, it becomes subject to retention and destruction provisions of State law. Accordingly, identify the records series to which recordings/transcriptions correspond, and retain record copies for the length of their designated retention periods. For digital content, at a minimum, provide for deletion of the records following the receipt of approval for the disposition action.

5.         Required Formats for Records Filed/received from outside sources

            Municipal staff, working with the municipal clerk and your technology support staff, must determine when records received from outside sources (e.g. vendors, contractors, other government entities, etc.) should be filed/received in a certain file format, if legally permitted. The reasons for such requirements would be to ensure that the records are filed in the most usable form and to help save the municipality money caused by converting the records to more useful formats in the future.

6.         File Formats for Long Term Retention of Electronic Records

            Any electronic record with a retention period of equal to or greater than 10 years should be stored in either a PDF/A or Tiff file format per guidelines published by DORES. Records with a retention period of less than 10 years can reside in the native file format that created or maintains the records as long as that residing system is properly maintained to ensure the records' accessibility and readability throughout its retention period.


F.         Storage Management and Maintenance

Once you know what records you have, their location and their format, it is important to determine the viability of the storage repository. Just as you should not store paper records in a room with a leaking roof or other structural or environmental issues that could damage stored records, you should ensure your electronic records are housed in a proper repository.


Note: Do not rely on system and file backup processes and media to cover electronic recordkeeping functions.

1.         Trustworthiness of Electronic Records

            No matter which electronic technologies a municipality employs for managing public records, municipalities must ensure all records are stored in a trustworthy repository with the following characteristics:

a)         Reliability

            A reliable record is one whose content can be trusted as a full and accurate representation of the transactions, activities, or facts to which it attests and can be depended upon in the course of subsequent transactions or activities.

b)         Authenticity

            An authentic record is one that is proven to be what it purports to be and to have been created or sent by the person who purports to have created and sent it. A record should be created at the point in time of the transaction or incident to which it relates, or soon afterwards, by individuals who have direct knowledge of the facts or by instruments routinely used within the business to conduct the transaction.

            To demonstrate the authenticity of records, implement and document policies and procedures that control the creation, transmission, receipt, and maintenance of records to ensure that records creators are authorized and identified, and that records are protected against unauthorized addition, deletion, and alteration. Institute controls to protect against unauthorized addition, deletion, alteration, use, and concealment - for example, role-based user access controls.

c)         Integrity

            The integrity of a record refers to it being complete and unaltered. It is necessary that a record be protected against alteration without appropriate permission. Specify what, if any, additions or annotations may be made to a record after it is created, under what circumstances additions or annotations may be authorized, and who is authorized to make them. Note and document any authorized annotation or addition to a record made after it is complete.

            Also maintain the structural integrity of electronic records. The structure of a record is comprised of its physical and logical format and the relationships among the data elements of the record. These should remain physically or logically intact. Failure to maintain the record's structural integrity may impair its reliability and authenticity.

            Implement controls, such as audit trails, to ensure records are complete and unaltered. Key considerations here include preserving:

          The original informational contents of the records as produced by the author or process that created the record

          The organizational, functional and transactional context of the record, including links to related records that reflect the business, legal and regulatory circumstances in which the record was produced. In this area, maintenance of the metadata listed above is a key

          The original physical and logical structure of the records and the relationships between the data elements they contain

d)         Usability

            A usable record is one which can be located, retrieved, presented, and interpreted. In any subsequent retrieval and use, the record should be capable of being directly connected to the business activity or transaction which produced it. It should be possible to identify a record within the context of broader business activities and functions. The links between records which document a sequence of activities should be maintained. These contextual linkages of records should carry the information needed for an understanding of the transaction that created and used them.

            Employ mechanisms to ensure records can be located, retrieved, presented, and interpreted. Ensure you develop and maintain consistent classification schemes for records – for example, classify by responsible office, function, and/or informational content. Also, maintain indexes that allow authorized users to locate stored records. – e.g., unique document ID’s and meta-data fields such as author/submitter name, data sent/received, topic keywords, etc.

            The degree of effort a municipality expends on ensuring that these characteristics are present depends on the municipality’s business needs or perception of risk. Transactions critical to the municipality’s business needs and/or the rights of the citizenry may need a greater assurance level. For guidance on whether records are trustworthy for legal purposes, consult your attorney or legal counsel.

2.         When Creating a New Storage Location

            When a new storage location is being considered for electronic records (e.g. network drive, system storage device configuration, collaboration site, etc.), make records management and preservation integral parts of the configuration planning process and design specification by ensuring that:

          Retention and disposition scheduling are parts of the drive/site design

          All records will be retrievable and usable for as long as needed to conduct municipal business (i.e., for the length of their approved retention periods)

          Where records must be retained beyond the anticipated life of the system, plan and budget for the migration of records and their associated metadata (index and related data) to new storage media or formats in order to avoid loss due to media decay or technology obsolescence

          If records are classified as archival or designated for archival review, contact DORES’ Records Management Services for further guidance on how to ensure you will be able to transfer the content to an archival facility

3.         Storage Media Environment

            Maintain media containing permanent, archival and unscheduled records in a facility that ensures continual temperature and relative humidity ranges: temperature at 62 to 68 F; and relative humidity at 35% to 45%. Also, maintain media containing permanent, archival and unscheduled records in smoke-free environments.

            Before media are 10 years old, copy permanent or unscheduled data on magnetic records storage media onto tested and verified new electronic media.


G.         System Sustainability and Safeguards Against Technical Obsolescence

As with all forms of automated records technologies, municipalities need to guard against technological obsolescence and take appropriate actions to maintain electronic information systems.

On an annual basis, for each system housing municipal records, address the following factors and considerations, and when appropriate, develop a migration/conversion strategy to assure that the public records involved are preserved in accordance with State of New Jersey retention and disposition policies set forth in approved records retention schedules.

1.         Sustainability Factors

a)         Technical

            Indicate the extent to which the core technology (e.g., operating system, database management system, network, file formats, etc.) is used/supported in the broader marketplace.

          Is the technology widely used/supported?

          Is it based on proprietary (vendor specific) or open technology?

          Are the underlying application system software and file formats documented?

          Is the business application involved based on Cloud Computing? How will the stored records be eventually transferred back to the municipality (since most likely the service provider will change at some point in the future)?

          Is there an imminent risk of technical obsolescence (within three years)?

b)         Support

            Is there availability of contractor and/or knowledgeable in-house maintenance support for the core system components in the next three years?

c)         Budget

            Will there be sufficient funding for support and necessary system upgrades in the three-year time frame?

2.         Sustainability Risk Matrix

            Indicate the risk levels associated with severe degradation or failure in each of the three areas above – from low to high for each area, in a three-year period.

Factor/Likelihood of Severe Degradation or Failure

















            Once the matrix is complete for each system, set priorities in addressing with the systems with the highest risks assigned. Budgets and staffing may limit how quickly each item can be addressed, but it is important to address the systems holding records at the highest risk level first.

3.         Migration Strategy

            If any of the factors on the matrix above registers as high, determine how your municipality will ensure that the informational and records contents of the system survive from one technological generation to the next. Your strategy may include a combination of the following:

          Preserve the original technology used to create or store the records through an in-house support arrangement

          Emulate the original technology on a new technology platform(s)

          Migrate the software necessary to retrieve, deliver, and use the records to another platform

          Migrate the records to a new system and up-to-date format

          Convert the records to another open format

            Design and implement migration and/or back-up strategies to counteract hardware and software dependencies, especially if the electronic records must be maintained beyond the anticipated life of the system used to create and/or capture them originally (risk of technological obsolescence).

            To successfully protect records against technological obsolescence, carry out upgrades of hardware and software with the goal of retaining the functionality and integrity of the electronic records stored within the system.

            To maintain record functionality and integrity:

          Retain the records in sustainable formats (by following previously stated guidelines) until their authorized disposition date.

          Ensure new storage media are compatible with the underlying hardware and software platforms.

          Maintain a link between records and their metadata through conversion or migration process.

          If applicable, ensure that migration strategies address non-active electronic records that are stored off-line.

TIP BOX - DORES Records Management Services can provide a written review of your migration strategy for use in planning and supporting your migration process, by sending your sustainability assessments, migration strategy and supporting material to DORES RMS.



H.         Filing and Organization Methods

Municipalities use shared (networked) drives, including collaboration sites, to store electronic records and other content such as reference and working (transient) materials (e.g., drafts and publications), which are used to produce documents and other formal communications.

A key determination that centers all planning and records management actions relative to shared drives is whether the records stored on the drives contain original, official versions or record copies. It is possible that shared drives contain only draft or working materials, which need not be retained beyond their immediate administrative uses.

More likely, however, shared drives will contain both working materials and record copies of documents, publications and other official communications. In these cases, plan to apply the following records management principles and practices.

1.         Organization

            When possible, arrange folders, sub-folders, and files so that they are associated with their corresponding records retention schedule/record series. Also consider using a file plan for organizing content on drives. You may find traditional file management techniques (classification plans) to be useful conceptual models for this purpose.

a)         A File Plan

            A File Plan provides a standardized records classification scheme and determines how to organize records and where to place them. The goals of a File Plan include:

          Provides a “roadmap” to locate the records created and where they are stored/maintained

          Applies to both paper & electronic records (but may be two distinct plans)

          Establishes proper naming conventions

          Separates records from non-records

b)         Use of Folders

            The challenge faced by most municipalities when it comes to network folders is the uncontrolled growth and limited oversight of the top level folders on the network. For example, generally a municipality should have the top level network folders be departments' names (e.g. Finance, Building, etc.) or primary items that apply to the overall organization (e.g. polices,).

            Although developing a folder organization structure for your network drives is beyond the scope of this manual, the use of standard naming conventions (as discussed below) and folder organization must be managed to include:

          Limit the ability to create top level folders to a select few with the municipality

          Top levels can be limited to department only and cross departmental functions or work processes. There should not be any individual’s file folder in among the top level.


TIP BOX - The following are only offered as examples of different folder organizational methods. Each municipality and department must design their own folder structure that best suits their individual business requirements and organization structure. (Note: the following nomenclature is used for the examples provided: N: [for network drive letter] \Department [department name] \Year [the year the record was created] \Record Series Name).

Treasurer/Finance department folder example:


                        \General Ledger

                        \Supporting documents


Planning department folder example:


            \Proposed Projects




                        \Approved Projects




                        \Rejected Projects





2.         Use Proper Naming Conventions

            Any file, especially electronic files (e.g. word processing, spreadsheets, images, etc.) should be identified using an easy to understand naming convention to facilitate the general identification of the contents of the file without requiring someone to open the file.

TIP BOX - File and folder names should also include identifiers to assist in determining the retention requirements of records such as date, record series name or other methods. Use of proper file and folder naming conventions will facilitate the proper retention and disposition of records and non-records according to approved record retention and disposition schedules.

A file name should provide enough information to any person other than the file creator an idea of what the file contains without opening the file. Similar to having a box label offering enough information so someone will not have to open the box to determine it has invoices from 2010.

Examples of improper file naming conventions:

Files and folders should not contain names of municipal staff (e.g. ‘Joe’s files’). As a result of staff change and extended time periods, current personnel may not know who ‘Joe’ is and have no idea what is contained within ‘Joe’s Files’. Other examples of inappropriate file naming conventions include (Would you know what the following files are about?):

                      Meeting Notes.docx


                      Updated Info.docx


Examples of better file naming conventions:







3.         Records Scheduling/Disposition

            Identify the records series that correspond to the records content of drives. Record series relate directly to department-specific or general records retention schedules. Retain record copies of public records for the length of their designated retention periods and, at a minimum, provide for deletion of the records following the receipt of approval for the disposition action.

            If you maintain a mix of different record series within individual folders and files, use the longest retention period to guide your disposition actions. If you store long term (retention greater than 10 years), permanent or archival records on an electronic system, be sure to address and guard against technical obsolescence (see the sections on System Sustainability and File Formats for more information).



IX.       Electronic Mail (E-mail)

Electronic Mail systems are used for sharing information quickly with anyone using the systems. They are not authorized recordkeeping systems. However, municipal records may be created or received on these systems.

When this occurs, it is the responsibility of the creator or the municipal office receiving the material from an organization or entity other than the municipality, to properly maintain the record. This section applies to records communicated via e-mail and applies to electronic mail messages and attachments.

A.           Electronic Mail Record Identification

New Jersey Statutes Annotated (N.J.S.A.) do not include a specific definition for electronic mail; however, the same definition for a record included at the beginning of this chapter and per OPRA remains in effect.

For the purposes of OPRA compliance then, determine if e-mail messages serve to document your organization’s functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other official activities. All such e-mail messages meet the definition of a government record per N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1 and must be available to the public during their required retention periods, unless the contents of any messages fall under one of the exceptions contained in the law. Examples of messages sent by electronic mail that typically are records include:

          Policies and directives

          Correspondence or memoranda related to official business

          Work schedules and assignments

          Agendas and minutes of meetings

          Any document that initiates, authorizes, or completes a business transaction; and

          Final reports or recommendations

Some examples of messages that typically do not constitute records are:

          Personal messages and announcements

          Copies or extracts of documents distributed for convenience or reference; and

          Announcements of social events

As a general rule, most of the messages created or received on an electronic mail system will be for informational purposes and are not records. This information should be eliminated from the system as quickly as possible in order for the system to operate at maximum performance levels. However, if the electronic mail message created or received meets the definition of a record, that electronic mail and any attachment must be moved to an approved record keeping file system.

TIP BOX - The material presented here builds on Circular Letter 14-12-DORES/OIT and guidelines produced by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The Circular Letter 14-12 can be found at:


B.           Electronic Mail Retention

An e-mail system is not a records management system, but exists to facilitate communications, much as a phone system or a fax system.  A backup of the system exists to facilitate disaster recovery and is not intended to be a records retention system. 

Records communicated using electronic mail need to be identified, managed, protected, and retained as long as they are needed to meet operational, legal, audit, research, or other requirements. Records needed to support municipal operations shall be retained, managed, and accessible in a filing system outside the electronic mail system in accordance with current municipal policies and procedure and state laws.

For the purposes of this section, there are non-record e-mail messages and official record e-mail message retention:

1.         Non-Record E-mail Messages

            Delete e-mail messages that do not meet the criteria of N.J.S.A. 47:3-16 at any time, unless they become part of some official record as a result of special circumstances. These types of messages may include:

          Personal Correspondence -- Any e-mail not received or created in the course of municipal business, may be deleted immediately, since it is not an official record. Examples include unsolicited e-mail advertisements, commonly called "SPAM," personal messages, or the "Let's do lunch" (not a government-business meeting over lunch), or "Can I catch a ride?" type of note.

          Non-Governmental Publications – Publications, promotional material from vendors, and similar materials that are publicly available to anyone, are not official records unless specifically incorporated into other official records. This includes listserv messages (other than those you post in your official capacity), unsolicited promotional material, files copied or downloaded from Internet sites, etc.

2.         Official Record E-Mail Messages

            E-mail messages that meet the definition of a record in N.J.S.A. 47:3-16 are official records and should be managed as such. Most e-mail messages will fall under one of the record series listed on an approved general retention schedule. At a general level, official records fall into the following categories:

a)         Transient Records

            Much of the communication via e-mail has a very limited administrative value. Such messages do not set policy, establish guidelines or procedures certify a transaction or become a receipt.

            Transient records include telephone messages (such as "While You Were Out" notes), drafts, and other documents that serve to convey information of temporary importance in lieu of oral communication. These should be retained until no longer of administrative value and then delete.

b)         Temporary Records

            E-mail messages that have more significant administrative, legal and/or fiscal value but are not scheduled as transient or permanent fall under the temporary category (see retention schedules for more information on specific retention periods). These may include (but are not limited to):

          General Correspondence

          Internal Correspondence

          Operational and Project Related Records

          Executive Correspondence

c)         Permanent Records (Including Archival Records)

            E-mail messages that have significant administrative, legal and/or fiscal value and are scheduled as permanent should also be categorized under the appropriate record series. Certain permanent records may possess enduring historical value. Permanent records include, but are not limited to:

          Departmental Policies and Procedures -- Includes published reports, unpublished substantive reports and policy studies.

          Minutes of Boards, Commissions, etc.

C.           Managing Electronic Mail

1.         Determine the Record Copy E-mail

            E-mail messages are often widely distributed to a number of various recipients. Determining which individual maintains the record copy of the message (i.e., the original, official message that must be retained for the length of the official retention period) is vital to e-mail management. In many cases, the record copy responsibility rests with the creator of the policy document. 

2.         Filing

            File temporary, permanent and archival e-mail messages in a way that enhances their accessibility, and facilitates records management tasks.

            The more each staff member can separate e-mails that contain records from those non e-mail records, the better. Using a series of subfolders under each person’s e-mail inbox is a good first step towards managing the flood of e-mail typically seen. This will generally allow an email user to divide the important from the non-important items and thus have less that may need further categorization or action to properly manage throughout their life cycle. Using a subfolder structure will help identify transient, temporary and permanent records within an e-mail system.

            In all cases, ensure e-mail contains searchable metadata and content, including:

          Names and e-mail addresses of recipients and senders, including names and addresses of all members of distribution lists

          Time and date that the e-mail was sent and delivered

          If your agency employs request acknowledgments or receipts showing that a message reached the mailbox or inbox of each addressee, or that an addressee opened the message, issue instructions to e-mail users specifying when to request such receipts or acknowledgments for record-keeping purposes and how to preserve them.

          Subject line that describes the content of the e-mail

TIP BOX - Consider directing employees to transfer e-mail messages from their in and out boxes to folders that list the subject matter involved, such as “Budget and Planning”, “Human Resources”, “Project XYZ”, etc., and that parallel the associated retention requirements (3 years, 4 years, delete after superseded, etc.). The drawback to this approach is that by allowing employees to classify their own messages, the municipality almost inevitably assures inconsistency, because each staff member will follow his/her own views of how best to classify items. To deal with this issue, consider adopting mandatory filing schemes that specify the folder/file names and filings rules. Bear in mind, however, that this approach may also have limitations; it will likely be a substantial undertaking, and difficult to enforce and sustain over time.

D.           Documenting Exceptions to Public Access

Where and when appropriate, it may be advisable for e-mail users to label their e-mail (in the subject line) as containing confidential or inter-agency or intra-agency advisory, consultative, or deliberative material or other information which falls under the exceptions to public access under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

E.           Storage and Archiving of E-mail

Explore several options for retaining e-mail records: on-line storage; Enterprise Content Management Systems (discussed later in this chapter); journaling/archiving solution; and off-line storage. For practical reasons, plan on employing more than one storage option.

For those without an ECMS or other e-mail archiving technology solution, incorporating a departmental file plan for subfolders within every staff member's e-mail Inbox and Sent folder must be performed. At the very least, providing a folder structure that separates records from non-records (including personal messages, reference material, non-record notices, etc.) must be done. The more a person can separate emails consistently into different ‘buckets’, the less time will be needed to clean up, purge, reorganize or migrate e-mail following an improved methodology or new system in the future following state requirements.

It is important to remember that messages only have to be retained and stored for as long as the retention period requires. Very few messages must be maintained for a long period of time or permanently.

          ON-LINE STORAGE -- On-line storage is defined as storage of e-mail messages, metadata, and attachments directly in the agency’s e-mail system.

          ELECTRONIC RECORDS SYSTEMS -- Electronic records systems accommodate storage of e-mail messages, metadata, and attachments on computer platforms that that are separate from, but linked to, the e-mail system.

          EMAIL JOURNALING/ARCHIVING (or Vaulting) -- This approach involves the transfer of all e-mail sent to/received by an agency, from the online system to a dedicated computing platform -- for preservation, access and ultimately, disposal.

          OFF-LINE STORAGE -- Off-line storage is defined as the storage of e-mail messages, metadata, and attachments outside of an electronic record-keeping environment.

1.         Long Term Retention of E-mail

            Plan to schedule the transfer of e-mail messages that must be retained permanently from the on-line e-mail system to an electronic records management system, e-mail archive and/or off-line facility.

            Off-line storage of records must be in compliance with State records storage standards set forth in N.J.A.C. 15:3-6.

F.           E-mail Messages and the Rules of Evidence

In connection with rules of evidence and admissibility, at a minimum, ensure the following:

          E-mail systems used to create, receive and maintain e-mail messages have up-to-date systems documentation

          E-mail systems follow all recommendations for system security and have back-up programs that run regularly and consistently

          E-mail system retains all data and audit trails necessary to prove its reliability – that is, that it was created, received and retained in the normal course of agency business, and that the record copies of messages are identified and maintained in accordance with approved records retention schedules

          Backup procedures are coordinated with disposition actions so that no copies of destroyed records are maintained after their retention periods have expired

G.           Access

Maintain e-mail in a format that preserves contextual information (metadata described previously), and that facilitates retrieval and access. In the same connection, to prevent inappropriate disclosure, set up procedures and processes that provide for deletion of messages after their retention periods expire. If your municipality is considering implementing an Electronic Content Management System (as discussed later in this chapter) a carefully crafted requirements document as a part of the initial design and selection process should include details on managing e-mail.

H.           Responsibility

Define roles and responsibilities of municipal personnel involved with e-mail. It is especially important for municipal records management personnel to work with their senior managers, legal counselors and information technology staff to establish policies and procedures for e-mail management. Make sure employees understand that most e-mail messages are public records and cannot be deleted or destroyed on a discretionary basis.

Municipal administrators, individual municipal employees, records managers, information technology (IT) managers and server administrators share responsibility for managing electronic records. Work with system administrators to ensure that unauthorized users are not able to access, modify, destroy or distribute records.

When an employee leaves a municipality, whether it is due to resignation, retirement, or termination, have a knowledgeable staff member(s) review the employee's email account to determine which e-mails should be retained, their appropriate retention periods, and then act accordingly.

I.            Electronic Mail Record Disposition

Records communicated via electronic mail will be disposed of within the record keeping system in which they have been filed in accordance with municipality’s Records Retention and Disposition Schedule.

Users should dispose of copies of records in e-mail after they have been filed in an approved record keeping system and delete records of transitory or little value that are not normally retained in record keeping systems as evidence of municipal activity.

J.            Deletion of Content and Disposal of Storage Media

Be aware that normal deletion processes do not assure the full destruction of e-mail records. In most cases, deletion only removes the index information that points to the records. Contact your system administrator to determine whether it would be appropriate to employ a form of secure deletion (on both online storage and back-up media), which effectively obliterates the targeted contents.


Effective December 21, 2017 the State Records Committee approved changes to the preface language contained in the Management of Electronic Records sections of the Municipal General Schedule (M100000) and added a new e-mail record series to the schedule, which are designed to provide local agencies with options to retain and dispose of electronic mail (e-mail) records.


Changes to the Preface Language:

“Regarding e-mail-based records, in the normal course of business the agency will take necessary actions to design, maintain, and train employees in the use of e-mail application features that ensures that the content, metadata, and any attachments are retained for the length of time required by the Record Series an email represents. The agency will also act to ensure that e-mail management practices include appropriate e-mail use policies, "litigation hold" techniques, and provide employee training related to their application. The agency may use traditional general and agency-specific retention schedules when requesting authorization to dispose of e-mail-based records, provided the requester can attest that only the records series cited in the agency request (and no other types of records) are included. Alternately, the agency may use the general e-mail record schedule item (0800-0001), to request disposition of e-mail.”


New Record Series:

Following is the new e-mail record series (0800-0010 on both the county and local schedules):


This schedule facilitates the management of e-mail records of all kinds that pertain to routine administrative activities that are not otherwise classified by their record type. To use this schedule, agencies must attest that their e-mail systems and general management practices incorporate elements designed to ensure soundness and accountability with respect to e-mail records maintenance, access and destruction. Agencies must make these attestations each time they request authority, via ARTEMIS, to dispose of e-mail in the general schedule category (Note 1).


Attestation elements include:


1. That the agency's general records management program ensures that records with retention periods exceeding seven (7) years are held for the prescribed periods of time, in accessible form, in a records-keeping system(s) separate from the e-mail system (Notes 2 and 3); 2. That the e-mail system used by the agency includes a central storage and management system for e-mail that is separate from copies of e-mail stored in the end-users' email boxes, wherein only authorized information technology and/or records management staff control the disposition of e-mail records stored in the centrally-managed system.  This includes provisions for administration of "litigation holds" wherein


TIP BOX-Continued


individual end-users cannot delete email records from the central storage/management system (Note 2); 3. That the agency has adopted acceptable use polices for e-mail and internet usage, with supporting employee training and/or informational programs; 4. That the agency's system possesses security controls that guard against unauthorized access, use, modification, dissemination, disclosure and/or destruction of e-mail records; and 5. That the agency has back-up/disaster recovery services in place that allow for the restoration of e-mail records following catastrophic or disruptive events.


Note 1: An agency may dispose of e-mail records sooner than the retention period in this schedule if the planned disposition action is in accordance with a specific general records schedule item. In each disposition request involving shorter-term items, the agency will be required to attest that the disposition action includes only the type of record described in the records schedule item referenced in the request. For instance, a request to dispose of e-mail described as internal correspondence must include an attestation that in fact, only e-mail records of internal correspondence aged greater than one year (and no other types of records) are included in the request.


Note 2: Centrally managed e-mail vaults and journals, cloud-based services, enterprise content management platforms and/or file shares may be used as separate records-keeping systems and for addressing the general requirement for central storage and management of e-mail.


Note 3: Use of this General e-mail schedule is not permitted if the agency creates/receives e-mail messages and/or associated attachments with retention periods exceeding seven (7) years and does not store the items in a separate records-keeping system.


Looking forward, the Artemis System will be enhanced to incorporate these attestations as part of the destruction requests.  In the interim, agencies may create disposition requests for e-mail within the Artemis System by selecting the appropriate record series and the "electronic medium" medium-type.


Agencies must upload the appropriate attestation.


Attestations can be found here:







X.         Enterprise Content Management Systems

Enterprise content management (ECM) refers to the process for gaining control of records and information. ECM tools and strategies assist in the management of a municipality's unstructured information and records, wherever they exist. An Enterprise Management System (ECMS) is a central technology platform used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver electronic content, including those deemed as records.


A.         Section Objectives

This section addresses:

          Introduction and provide a general understanding of an ECMS

          The potential capabilities of an ECMS

          Understanding where an ECMS is best utilized

          What to watch out for when considering an ECMS


B.         Other Names Used Interchangeably with an ECMS

Although for the simplicity purposes the term ECMS will be used within this chapter, often other terminology is frequently used interchangeable and synonymous when discussing similar systems, including:

          Imaging systems

o          Primarily focused on scanning paper-based documents and does not always offer all the workflow and advanced capabilities of an ECMS

          Electronic Document Management System (EDMS)

o          Scanning and electronically generated documents (e.g. MS Office formats, e-mail, etc.)

          Electronic Records Management Systems (ERMS)

o          Includes records management, retention & disposition scheduling; as options in above

          Electronic Content Management System (ECMS)

o          Also includes dynamic intranet/Internet site content management and publishing


C.         ECMS Benefits

Depending on your specific circumstances, an ECMS can offer many benefits:

          Faster access to documents - View documents from your PC

          Provide cross referencing capabilities – providing other methods to search and locate records if the primary name is unknown

          Reduce paper volume – store hundreds of file cabinets on a single server or hard drive

          Central repository for records of all formats – no more searching in multiple file cabinets, across network folder and individual desktops to find what you need

          Tool to address compliance requirements - Records retention; improved security; authenticity

          Process improvement - Improve collaboration & streamline workflows


D.         When to Consider and Not Consider an ECMS

Again, each municipality will be different, so the following is offered as a basic guideline for discussion when considering the use of an ECMS.

1.         When to Consider an ECMS

            Be sure one or more of the following characteristics is present for each department/records series that is a candidate for an ECMS:

          Relatively higher record retrieval rate

          Records of higher value/importance

          Multiple users needing access to the same record series

          Need to share and collaborate on documents

          Need to improve work processes (i.e. leverage automated workflow)

          Lack of current storage space and related considerations

2.         When not Consider an ECMS

            There are areas where implementing an ECMS may not make the most sense for your municipality.

a)         Low Volume

            If you do not have that many documents to store, then it is probably cost prohibitive.

b)         High volume with no retrieval needs

            If you have a high volume of records to store, but never need to retrieve them, then keep them in their existing format if space is available.

c)         Low value to documents

            If there is a low value to the documents and losing them will not cause undo harm to your local government, the public or any governing body then you may want to think twice about an ECMS and if it is worth the effort to implement.


E.         ECMS Components

Every ECMS solution is different depending on the vendor’s particular system and capabilities offered. The following are just some of the capabilities that can be provided by an ECMS.

1.         Scanning

            The scanning and converting paper-based records to a digital image is often the most frequently used and requested capability of these systems. The physical storage space reduction and immediate retrieval benefits as a result of scanning documents into an ECMS provide visible and tangible benefits as soon as they are put in use.

2.         Native Electronic Document Management

            An ECMS is designed to serve as the main place for storage and management and as such they can manage records in many formats – including those born digitally in native file formats (including but not limited to: Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, HTML, XML, PDF, PDF/A, PNG, and audio and video files). If your records are already digital, you can capture them electronically without the need to print and scan them.

3.         E-Mail Management

            Not all ECMS solution can properly manage email in their base/core system and may require an ‘add-on’ module to accomplish the task. Some of the items/functionality to look for include:

            An e-mail management module can integrate with your e-mail client software (e.g. Outlook, G-Mail, etc.) so records management functions can be performed without leaving your email software. This allows users to classify an email and store them within the ECMS. Once classified, the e-mail is filed with other related documents in the ECMS. Although approach places the onus on the user to properly classify an e-mail, it is similar to classifying any paper record.

4.         Records Retention Management

            While one may think that every ECMS comes with standard records management functionality built in, this is not the case. Similar to other functionality listed in this section, records management may be another add-on.  Make sure your ECMS allows any classified record to have the proper records retention schedule applied when classified into the ECMS.

5.         Workflow

            Automatically routing documents for review and approval to any number of individuals or departments within a municipality can save significant labor and time normally associated with paper approval processes.

6.         Other Potential Capabilities

          Electronic forms (usually tied with workflow) can eliminate hundreds of manual/paper forms used in departments providing online completion for staff as well as the public.

          Enterprise Report Management/COLD is great direct storage of large computer generated reports automatically

          GIS integration can link documents real-time to spacial maps

          CAD integration links documents with Computer Aided Design application software which is good for larger Engineering departments


F.         Popular Application Uses

While the particular benefits seen and potential application for an ECMS within your municipality will vary depending on individual circumstances, the following are some more common uses:

1.         Scanning Paper Records

            While there are many potential applications for the scanning/digitalizing of paper records in a municipality, the following are some example application uses seen in municipalities:

          Clerks (minutes, resolutions, ordinances)

          Police (incident/arrest reports, traffic violations, etc.)

          Building/Code Enforcement Dept files (inspections/permits)

          Finance (payroll registers, general ledgers, audits)

          Administrators (contracts/agreements, subject files)

          Engineering/Highway (project files)

          Planning/Zoning files (subdivision review, applications, large format plans and maps, violations, etc.)

2.         Beyond Scanning

            While many municipalities use an ECMS solutions for only storing scanned images, there are many more potential application uses for such a system providing significant time savings and other benefits. The following is a small list of examples:

          Procurement process

o          Allow electronic submission of purchase requests and/or invoices. Received documents are automatically routed to the appropriate individuals for review, approval

          Personnel files and any standard processes

o          Besides just storing personnel files, an ECMS’ workflow can be leveraged to automate the numerous processes affecting municipal employees (e.g. new hire process, annual review, benefit information, vacation/time off requests and more

          Computer report management

o          Allow the direct storage of common municipal reports as they are created (e.g. financial report, payroll reports, tax bills, tax rolls, internal copy of invoices & PO’s, W-2’s, and more

          Subdivision review process

o          Automatically review and record actions as a part of the normal plan submission and review process to include review from both within the municipality and outside reviewers (attorneys, engineers, county planning departments, etc.)


G.         Considerations prior to ECMS Acquisition and/or Implementation

While the following is not to be considered an exhaustive list of everything to be considered prior to selecting an ECMS for your municipality, this section should be some of the primary areas: 

1.         Purge and Organize Records before Scanning

            Do not scan what is not required to be kept. Before you purchase any ECMS solution, review your records and purge those that are no longer required to be retained following appropriate record retention schedules. This will significantly reduce the time and, labor and storage requirements needed to implement your solution.

2.         Understand the Work Needed for Scanning

            Although there are many benefits, paper documents are not just magically converted to digital form. There is a lot of preparation and work that has to be performed before any scanning is considered.

a)         Document Preparation

            This includes, but is not limited to staple and paper clip removal, flattening folded or damaged paper, organizing and more to get documents ready to be scanned.

b)         Documents Indexing

            Scanned documents are just dumb pictures without an index to locate them. Without a proper index, finding a scanned document is similar to finding a single paper document that was thrown into a large pile of papers with no labeling or other identification.

c)         Quality Control

            Any scanned records entered into and stored on an ECMS or other system must follow state requirements for quality control to ensure the document is readable among other qualities. So a post scanning step must be performed and the time and labor required to perform quality control must be included in every scanning project or effort.

            The updated requirements outlined by DORES in Subchapter 15:3-4.6:, address the use of multi-function devices for scanning purposes and clarify that visual inspection of scanned images for quality control purposes may be accomplished on an image-by-image basis, via sampling or combined approaches, and may also be supported by machine-based quality control processes.

3.         Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

            It is easy to get wrapped up in the technology and the potential uses for an ECMS, but it is important to look at the total cost of ownership to determine its suitability of such a solution to your application needs. You must consider the costs beyond just what is outlaid for ECMS software to include, but not limited to:

          Scanner hardware

          Individual user licenses

          Additional workstation costs

          Potential cost of infrastructure upgrades (e.g. servers, storage space, workstation upgrades, etc.)

          On-going maintenance and support costs

          Systems administration

          Conversion costs

          Proper training (both upfront and on-going)

4.         Establish proper policies & procedures

            You need guidance and rules as to what would be placed within the ECMS and how, among other records management policies.

5.         Organizational Roles and Responsibilities

            Are you ready to support an ECMS? Municipalities must determine who will administer the ECMS as well as provide day-to-day support (usually this is not the same individual for medium to larger implementations). Who will support the system for things such as adding users, setting up indexes for each record series, who will do training after the vendor has finished their contract installation work?

6.         Start simple

            Although an ECMS has many capabilities, keep it simple and get a quick win (i.e. show successful use of the system in a very short time period). This provides a way to get used to the system and avoid complexities normally seen when larger issues or applications are addressed. Focus on simple scanning of a particular record series (invoices, minutes, etc.) for storage and retrieval needs and save workflow and other work process enhancements for later.



XI.       Awareness of Other Key Technologies and Approaches

The primary objective for this section is to provide a brief understanding of certain technologies and how to begin the process to manage records. This section will not provide detail on every step in the management process due to the variations in systems, technologies and resources available to municipal governments and the resources (staff, system and budgets).


A.         Web Sites (Web Content Management)

Web sites are groupings of digital content, organized as pages, that center on and allow online access to related topics, functions and/or services via hyperlinks and other automated navigational tools. Web site contents may include various combinations of elements such as information encoded in a mark-up language (e.g. HTML), style sheets, audiovisual files, application software code (executables), presentations and various types of electronic documents.

Currently, New Jersey does not develop retention schedules for web sites per se, but rather focuses on the individual documentary/transactional elements that may appear online such as reports, filing transactions, payments, etc., which are typically stored, for official record-keeping purposes, in back-end production databases and network file shares. If your municipality uses web sites to store official or record copy versions of public records, basic records management requirements will apply to the content of those sites.

Each municipality must ensure that records published on their website are managed and disposed of according to the appropriate record retention and disposition schedule. The municipal clerk should work with the municipality’s information technology support staff and DORES staff to identify the most effective way of managing its website based records.

NARA provides guidance on categorizing and scheduling records found on web sites using the following three general groupings:

1.         Web management and operations records that document the site’s context including: web site design records;

2.         Records that specify a municipality’s web policies and procedures by addressing such matters as how records are selected for the site and when and how they may be removed;

3.         Records documenting the use of copyrighted material on a site; records relating to the software applications used to operate the site; and records that document user access and when pages are placed on the site, updated, and/or removed.

            If the use of more sophisticated software applications that may be able to capture your web site periodically is out of reach of your budget, a standard approach is to capture periodic views of your web site pages and save them in PDF or PDF/A formatted files and retain following the appropriate retention schedule for the content. See your IT professional on the how to capture web site pages in PDF files and for other methods to periodically capture web site documents.

            In any case, it seems clear that selected preservation of web sites is needed because of the role they play in documenting the evolution of governmental functions, programs and policies.


B.         Social Media

Content posted to a municipality-affiliated account on a Social Media Site is subject to record retention and disposition requirements of the State Records Committee.  Therefore, each municipality must maintain a copy of all content posted to a social media site that is considered a record in accordance with the record retention and disposition schedule. 

In addition, content posted to a municipality-affiliated account on a social media site that is considered an electronic record, is subject to disclosure under OPRA and the Freedom of Information Law and must follow records management policies established within this manual. 

For these reasons, each municipality shall maintain copies of postings that are vital to the transaction of public business and that evidence the municipality’s public functions, decisions and operations.  Where such materials are in the custody of a third party provider, the municipality shall make reasonable efforts to obtain a copy of such when needed for public access or record preservation purposes.

Due to the number of social media sites and applications available, specific recommendations are beyond the scope of this manual (and would most likely be quickly outdated given the constant changes in this space).

There are basically three choices for managing records created or stored on social media:

1.         Do not allow the use of social media for any municipal business

2.         When possible, periodically capture information deemed as records on a social media site by creating PDF files from the site pages

3.         Acquire and invest in a ECMS or other software application specifically designed to capture records from social media sites used by the municipality


C.         Instant Messaging/Texting

Similar to the use of social media, any use of Instant Messaging which content is deemed a record is subject to record retention and disposition requirements of DORES the State Records Committee, OPRA, and the Freedom of Information Act.

The municipal clerk along with the IT support staff should contact the communications carrier (and 3rd party vendors of ECMS and other solutions) and investigate options for capturing instant messages and texts in those areas where they are deemed records. In most cases, this should be a very limited scope of departments and users that may create records, if at all. 

In any event, personal phones should not be used to create, receive or store municipal records.


D.         Mobile Devices

Records should not be maintained on any mobile device (e.g. laptop computers, handheld computers, pagers, cell phones and other portable devices) due to the risk associated with the loss of the device. As such, any record created or received on a mobile device must be transferred to an approved electronic records storage repository. The municipal clerk along with the IT support staff should review and approve acceptable record storage locations for records created or captured on mobile devices.


E.           Electronic Signatures

Per Section 7 of UETA (C.12A:12-7), unless exempted from the provisions of UETA (C. 12A:12-3.b and 3.c), if a law requires a record to be in writing, an electronic record satisfies the law; and if a law requires a signature, an electronic signature satisfies the law.

The law defines “electronic signature" broadly as an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with a record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record (C. 12A:12-2).

If a law requires a signature or record to be notarized, acknowledged, verified, or made under oath, per C.12A:12-11, the requirement is satisfied if the electronic signature of the person authorized to perform those acts, together with all other information required to be included by other applicable law, is attached to or logically associated with the signature or record. In all then, municipalities have a wide range of discretion with regard to how they implement electronic systems that require signatures.

          Unless specifically exempted from the provisions, if a law requires a record to be in writing, an electronic record satisfies the law; and

          If a law requires a signature, an electronic signature satisfies the law.

Municipalities may choose from a number of electronic signature requirements such as the following:

          Conformed signature (typed name/title online) - Consider using this approach when the laws underlying the system do not require an authenticated/verified signature and the operational, economic and service benefits of the approach outweigh the risks and impacts of repudiation or fraud.

          Facsimile-based signature sheet - The use case here is largely the same as that of the conformed signature.

          Personal Identification Number (PIN)

          Authenticated user ID and password

          Use a multi-factor/verified method for setting up an ID and password.

          Public Key Infrastructure or PKI - This involves the use of public/private digital key pairs issued by a trusted third party. The approach offers very high degrees of security, authentication and non-repudiation.





XII.     File Management

Filing is the process of categorizing and arranging records for effective storage and retrieval based on record series (i.e. subject matter, types of documents, or identical retention periods).

Developing a File Plan

The central element to files management is the file plan.  Factors involved in developing a file plan include:

          Records to be filed

          Arrangement techniques, i.e., classification and access systems

          Equipment and supplies

          Integration of the file plan with basic records management processes such as records retention and disposition and transfer of semi-current to records storage.

Approximately 70 per cent of the expense of maintaining a filing system involves labor costs, so municipalities can realize significant savings through the selection of equipment that aids filing and retrieval efforts. The expense of equipment, repairs, operations, supplies and floor space should be considered in relationship to the annual growth rate of files and budgetary levels. Two elements that determine the general cost effectiveness of a filing system are:

          Space efficiency —  The capacity of a room or area should be evaluated for accessibility to equipment and files.

          Equipment efficiency— Acquiring equipment that provides effective file storage and retrieval at the lowest possible cost per file inch is a major concern when purchasing equipment. Another factor may include potential of equipment to be updated, modified or augmented.

Choosing a Classification System

Classification refers to the method of determining and arranging subjects in a file series based on an evaluation of future retrieval needs.  A classification system is:

          Logical & practical       


          Uses the simplest terms available

          May be based on the organization functions involved

          Must be exclusive so that subject categories are not redundant

          Flexible enough to permit future expansion

Classification systems are an important part of a filing system and can include three types of classification methods:


o          Ideal for a simple filing system with a very low volume of files, generally under 1,000 and involves filing by subject name (e.g. a particular project, company, individual, or geographic location) – and requires consistent application.  For example, if one person creates a file entitled, “Main Street Project,” all subsequent documents should be marked with this title.  If not, someone unfamiliar with this project file could file new documents in the “Township Street” file.


o          Most useful where there are a large volume of files, generally ranging from 1,000 - 10,000 files.  Invoices, checks, and requisitions are most often requested by number. However, numeric filing systems require cross references for instances in which a number is not known.  For example, real property can be listed numerically by block and lot numbers, with alphabetic cross references available by street address or by owners.

o          Numeric systems also require maintenance. If numbers are unclear, or are transposed when typed or written, records can easily be misfiled.  There are several types of numeric systems: straight numeric, duplex numeric (including middle-digit indexing and terminal-digit indexing), decimal filing systems (e.g., the Dewey Decimal System), and chronological systems.  Each system has advantages and disadvantages which should be weighed before being instituted.


o          Includes a number/letter combination in which files are arranged in a general category by subjects, i.e., alphabetically and then assigned numbers for subdivisions. This method of filing is not usually found in office applications and is most often reserved for library classification.

All other systems are variations of these basic types.



XIII.    Records Retention Schedules

Records Retention Schedules are approved by the State Records Committee [N.J.S.A. 47:3-20) for all New Jersey public records. The Schedules are determined from consideration of the varying needs for the records.  Factors Used in Determining Retention Schedules Include:

1)         Administrative - how long must a record series be kept for active use?

2)         Legal - are there any laws or regulations for specific retention periods?

3)         Fiscal - will the record series be required for audits?

4)         Research - will the record series be useful for administrative and operational analyses?

5)         Historical - does the record series contain information of enduring worth for future generations?

6)         Essential/vital records - is the record series essential to the continuation of the business of your office during a disaster, or to the resumption of normal operations after a calamity?


Based on the above analysis, retention periods are assigned to each document and recommended by the Records Analysts to the State Records Committee for consideration and adoption.  Types of Retention Periods are:

1)         Single time frames - expressed in months or years.

2)         Contingent time frames - keyed to a particular event, e.g., "3 years after audit."

3)         Permanent retention - items which must be maintained in perpetuity.

4)         Discretionary retention - for items of minimal value only, "Periodic review."

5)         Serial or on-going retention - for cumulative record series in which new items supersede old items, e.g., "As updated."





Check DORES’ web site for latest revision of all municipal records retention schedules. The Municipal Clerk Retention Schedule (M200000-007) can be found at:




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