As we all know, contemporaneously developed accurate documentation is becoming increasingly more important in our daily work.
To quote one of my colleagues in the office: “if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen!”
Here are some practical suggestions that you should consider in drafting and maintaining documents (e.g. letters, notes, memos and minutes).
- All documents should bear the identity of the author, the recipient, the date it was created and page numbers if there is more than one page. It’s helpful to use this format: “page 1 of 3 pages” or “1 of 3 pages.” Many word processing programs have a feature that allows you to do this automatically in a header or footer.
- Use a date stamp to mark the receipt of all documents. Alternatively, make a hand notation as to when you first saw the document. This may be critical in circumstances in which legal or contractual timelines apply.
- Be certain that any attachments referred to in the text of a document as being attached are in fact attached.
- If copies are sent to parties other than those to whom the document is addressed, that should be noted.
- Documents that are created or received by public officials in the course of their work are presumptively public records. This also applies to documents that are electronically transmitted and/or received.
- Consider indicators such as the following:
- Cc: personnel file; correspondence file etc.
- Electronic file names
- Dates and initials of the author, e.g. “rgf.011129”
- Dates and initials of the party to whom it is sent e.g. “JD011129”
- All documents created and received by you are potentially subject to “discovery” in litigation, including arbitrations and formal administrative hearings even if they are exempt from production under the public records law.
The ultimate litmus test about the contents of documents you create should be:
- Do I and/or the school district need this record?
- Would I want this document to be seen by a judge, a hearing officer or an arbitrator?
- Would I want to see this document appear on the front page of a newspaper?
If you can’t answer “yes” to all of these questions, don’t create a document or other record (e.g. tape, electronic record, etc.).
Finally, remember that you may not destroy public records without first obtaining the permission of the Supervisor of Public Records before doing so.
<<< REVISED January 29, 2009 >>>