Sanford case highlights record keeping issues

Records of S.C. officials and agencies are available to the public, right?


State and local governments have applied patchwork standards to preserving records, e-mails and other documents. In some cases, those governments have ignored guidelines set out by state archivists.

In other cases, public officials have defied the law.

The issue came to light during this summer's scrutiny of Gov. Mark Sanford's travel and campaign records. Questions about Sanford's activities led to scrutiny of past administrations and lawmakers.

Reporters and attorneys digging through state archives found that many records no longer existed. The S.C. Department of Archives and History recommends which records should be preserved. But director Eric Emerson said his agency does not have the staff to make sure state agencies are complying with the rules.

Among the public records that public officials said were no longer available:

- E-mails - Gov. Sanford's office provided thousands of pages of e-mails to reporters after his June trip to Argentina. But Sanford's office refused to comply with a Freedom of Information request, saying staff members no longer worked for his office and their e-mails were not preserved. In one case, the staffer still was working for Sanford when the request was submitted.

- Aircraft data - The S.C. Division of Aeronautics said it destroys records detailing use of state-owned aircraft after three years. As a result, it was difficult to compare past administrations' use of the aircraft after Sanford's use was questioned.

- Financial data - Records detailing how past administrations used a special Commerce Department account - funded by contributions from private companies - were unavailable. Such funds have drawn criticism from state auditors in the past.

Archives Department head Emerson said state agencies largely are responsible for what is and is not preserved.

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