Document Retention Requirements
By Jeff Wagner; Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.

Although many have touted the advent of a “paperless society,” the truth is we are confronted with an increasing number of documents every day.  This does not create the issues for a private business that it does for a governmental entity.  A private business has flexibility in determining the documents it will keep and the form in which it will keep them (paper vs. electronic) that best meet its operational and other needs.  A governmental entity in Mississippi does not have that same freedom or flexibility.

Section 25-59-19 of the Mississippi Archives and Records Management Law of 1981, Sections 25-59-1 through 25-59-31, Mississippi Code of 1972, as amended, provides that “all records created or received in the performance of public duty and paid for by public funds are deemed to be public property and shall constitute a record of public acts.”  Further Section 25-59-21 of the Records Management Law provides that no public records may be destroyed without the consent of the Director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.  The definition of “public record” under the Records Management Law is similar to the definition of “public record” under the Mississippi Public Records Act and includes “documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings or other materials regardless of physical form or characteristics made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency or by any appointed or elected official.”  This would naturally include records such as grant agreements, but further includes items ranging from security recordings to e-mails.  Of note, the Records Management Law makes improper disposal of any public record a misdemeanor (a criminal offense), punishable by a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $1,000.

The Local Government Records Committee of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History is authorized to publish document retention schedules, which provide how long (and in what format) records must be maintained.  Thanks to the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, the Local Government Records Committee has approved a record retention schedule specific to airports.  The record retention schedule (available here) provides varying lengths of time for document retention from a few years (e.g., time sheets) to permanent (e.g., Board minutes) depending on the nature of the document.  Although the approved record retention schedule for airports covers many, if not most, of the records an airport will have in its possession, it may be modified by request to the Department of Archives and History to meet special needs or requirements of individual airports.

Although beyond the scope of this article, please be aware that some records should never be destroyed (those of enduring or archival value due to their nature) or may be subject to other limitations (as a result of past or ongoing litigation).

Jeff Wagner is a shareholder at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C. in Jackson, Mississippi, and may be contacted at
(601) 973-3610 or by email at
jwagner@bakerdonelson.com with any questions.