Officials overrun by records; supervisors conference room in jeopardy

HERNANDO — There’s hardly room to squeeze through the boxes of DeSoto County records packed nearly to the ceiling in a third-floor room of the county administration building.

Supervisor Lee Caldwell of Nesbit indicated a Toys for Tots box for Christmastime donations, high in one corner.

“That’s the only box in here that’s not full,” she told The Commercial Appeal.

Nesbit asked County Administrator Vanessa Lynchard, “How do you find anything in here?”

“We have our own system,” Lynchard said. “We know this space is for that, that corner is for this.”

It gets more surreal, Lynchard added: “The Accounting Department stores all their overflow at the Road Department.”

She told the Board of Supervisors last week that if there’s another wave of documents to be boxed, the board risked losing its own conference room.

She asked for summer help to scan and computerize some of the older records. The board approved $20,000 to hire two temporary workers.

The project “will save hundreds of thousands of dollars for the county in the long run,” Lynchard said later in the week.

Planning director Ted Garrod sees the project and the pile as “an issue of accessibility. Paper records in files and boxes are less accessible and retrievable than records stored digitally.” So storage also reaches the level of transparency and accountability.

On the first floor in the county Emergency Services office is D.W. Gilbert, deputy director to the chief, Bobby Storey.

Lynchard gives Gilbert the credit for starting the cyber-ball rolling on records storage. In February, he and Storey presented a policy and procedures proposal for digital or “cloud” storage of public files, incorporating backup and compliance with rules of the state Archives and History office and other agencies.

“We had so much paperwork — code enforcement, Emergency Services, Mississippi Emergency Management and FEMA — that we had to do something,” said Gilbert.

The policy also was prompted by Webster County’s loss of its courthouse in a predawn fire Jan. 17 that left paper records a shambles. Webster supervisors had to authorize the rental of a refrigerated trailer to store and freeze-dry water-damaged court files.

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