An old proposal would have brought the General Assembly and Judicial Branch under the State Library for the sake of preserving historical records and consistently maintaining government documents.
“A lot of people told me it would be dead on arrival,” he said. “I try to think of myself as nonpolitical.” Wiggin said he has not pursued it with the administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy.
The bill would have required the two branches of government to follow document-preservation policies set in conjunction with the library. “It’s one of those things you have to carefully explain what it is you’re trying to do,” Wiggin said. “We never wanted to tell the other two branches what to do.”
Legislators and their staff members can delete an email and, since the Office of Legislative Management only archives a copy for 21 days, that document is destroyed within a month. Executive branch officials, from the governor down, must keep routine correspondence by email for at least two years and some documents even longer.
A request for emails from four legislators on a transparency task force demonstrated the lack of consistency in legislative emails.
“The public’s right to know is dependent upon a records management program that insures consistent policies and handling of public records as well as a transparent and accountable destruction process,” Wiggin said in his testimony supporting the bill.
The Judicial Branch testified against the bill saying it already has record-retention rules in place.
The procedures outlined by the library would mean there is always a record of destroyed documents, Wiggin explained. The agency would request permission to destroy documents. If the request followed the record-retention guidelines and the documents had no historical value, the library would approve it.
“It protects an agency as well,” he said. “It avoids any perception that they’re just throwing things away.”
The request and approval would be kept to demonstrate the integrity of the process. “They’re permanent. We never get rid of those.”
“It’s to everybody’s benefit to follow a process,” Wiggin said.
Agencies hold onto many documents longer than they are required to, according to Wiggin, but the library is willing to store and preserve documents of enduring value when agencies no longer want them on hand.
“We’re kind of like the file cabinet of last resort,” he said. “We take that burden for agencies.”
“Some legislative materials come here and have for some time,” Wiggin said, including paper copies of transcripts for all hearings.
He said it would be more difficult – “probably a lot harder” – to write a biography about a major legislative figure than a governor.
He said legislators “can do what they want” with their personal files. “Some have donated them,” he said. “There’s no consistency with what happens to these files.”
“It wouldn’t be us dictating to them,” Wiggin said, referring to the old legislation. “It would create a uniform process.”
For example, the legislative email of former state Sen. Andrew McDonald was not preserved. Historians may be interested in his records because he went on to serve as Malloy’s general counsel and now on the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Wiggin said a governor’s papers have to go the state library and fortunately they do include correspondence with legislators. Such indirect methods of research prompt the library staff to think carefully about what to keep.
He said collaboration between the General Assembly, the Judicial Branch and the State Library would provide an opportunity to “figure out what really is important to keep for the historical record.”
“Some things transcend the boundaries of the three branches,” he said.
Wiggin said he hopes to work with the leadership of all three branches going forward. For example, he said the state will need to pursue a common document-management system as a long-term project.