Involved in the purchase or sale of government records? It’s illegal!
Government records are paid for by public funds and belong to the citizens of the communities that create them. It is illegal for government records to be sold or alienated from public custody unless done in accordance with established, legal retention procedures.
The law of Georgia is clear:
State and Court Records (O.C.G.A. 50-18-102)
(a) All records created or received in the performance of duty and paid for by public funds are deemed to be public property and shall constitute a record of public acts.
(b) The destruction of records shall occur only through the operation of an approved retention schedule. The records shall not be placed in the custody of private individuals or institutions or semiprivate organizations unless authorized by retention schedules.
(c) The alienation, alteration, theft, or destruction of records by any person or persons in a manner not authorized by an applicable retention schedule is a misdemeanor.
Local Government Records (O.C.G.A. 50-18-99)
(a) As used in this Code section, the term:
(1) ‘Governing body’ means the governing body of any county, municipality, or consolidated government. The term includes school boards of this state.
(2) ‘Office or officer’ means any county office or officer or any office or officer under the jurisdiction of a governing body which maintains or is responsible for records.
(b) This article shall apply to local governments, except as modified in this Code section.
(c) All records created or received in the performance of a public duty or paid for by public funds by a governing body are deemed to be public property and shall constitute a record of public acts.
What if the government threw the records out?
Governments in Georgia are required to follow strict procedures when disposing of records. State law requires that the destruction of records shall occur only through the operation of an approved retention schedule (O.C.G.A. 50-18-102(b)). The disposition of records that have been discarded legally will be well documented and easily identified from the retention schedule. Any undocumented claim of disposition is suspect.
What do I do if I find a government document being offered for sale?
Contact the State Archives at 678-364-3710. The Archives will investigate. If the record has been stolen, the Archives through Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has the authority to initiate actions through the Attorney General to stop its sale or recover it (O.C.G.A. 45-11-1).
For more information
The Council of State Archivists (CoSA) has set up a website devoted to replevin and government records sales issues. Visit Council of State Archivists Sales of Public Records Statement for more information.