Trumbull Co. records system getting a makeover

WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – Trumbull County Clerk of Courts Karen Infante Allen thinks that the Trumbull County records system works pretty well.

But she also thinks it could be better.

That’s why a county-owned property at 159 E. Market St. in Warren is in the process of being converted into a public records housing station, while county employees work to scan in old records to better preserve them.

“It’s very important,” Infante Allen said. “Not only for family searches, because I know we get a lot of that, but the court records are very important. People search back, criminal records and civil cases back to the early 1900s…It’s crazy.”

Infante Allen said the records are currently housed in three separate locations and have not been moved to the new location. The county government is in the process of designing it to suit the records.

Trumbull County Records Manager Lynn Wallace-Smith said she hopes the records will be fully moved in to the new location by the end of 2014.

“If it was up to me, it would be today,” Wallace-Smith said. “I think it will be awhile…we have a lot of work to do.”

Public records employees in Trumbull Co. are also in the process of preserving old records by putting old information on microfilm, then scanning the microfilm copy into electronic form. Infante Allen said there would not be a single building big enough to house all the records without some of them being converted to more easily stored methods.

The effort to scan the documents is necessary for Trumbull County but not necessarily practiced in all 88 counties in Ohio, according to Wallace-Smith.

Wallace-Smith belongs to a group known as the Ohio County Archivists and Records Managers Association, which is working to update a manual to standardize records retention schedules throughout Ohio. The group is open to all Ohio counties, with about 40 of a possible 88 counties participating.

Of those 40, about 30 are scanning in documents, Wallace-Smith said, and more may be doing so without attending the group’s meetings.

WKBN participated in a state-wide public records audit, testing the availability of records to the public, in April. While no records requested at the Trumbull County level were denied, a request to Infante Allen for the county’s records policy and records retention schedule went only partially answered.

Infante Allen provided the records policy in an email, but the schedule was not sent. A follow-up investigation by WKBN determined that Infante Allen sent the email with the request to Trumbull County Computer Systems Administrator Barb Vingle, who thought the records policy covered the entirety of the request.

Infante Allen said she believes the county’s record-keeping system does a good job at providing the public with information.

“I do feel our accessibility is efficient,”  “If you have specific dates and request something, we’re on it quickly…we haven’t really had a problem.”

The Ohio Coalition for Open Government and Ohio media outlets collaborated on the April audit, which found improved compliance to public records law as compared to the 2004 audit. Overall, the audit found that government officials in the state of Ohio denied 10% of public records requests during the 2014 audit, as compared to 30% during the 2004 audit.

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