GIBSON, Ga. — Glascock County employees used shovels in a hole more than 6 feet deep to unearth county documents buried years ago on land adjoining its landfill.
Commission Chairwoman Audrey Chalker and Sheriff Dean Couch were both on the scene last month helping to sort the damp paperwork, much of which was stuck together and falling apart.
“We have no knowledge of exactly what’s in there,” Couch said. “They’re (the commissioners are) missing a lot of paperwork and this is why we’re digging. They’re missing some blueprints … they are not supposed to destroy or do away with. We don’t want to point any fingers or anything. We were told it’s here and we want to find out what’s here.”
Chalker said a former county employee notified the commissioners some time back that while many old county records dating back to previous administrations were shredded and burned, at least one truckload was buried near the landfill.
“We were advised by our county attorney to dig it up,” Chalker said. “Then we talked with our consultant who told us the only way to get rid of these documents is to shred or burn them. You can’t bury them.”
S.E. “Sigi” Konieczny, a private records management consultant who said he spent more than 30 years with the state archives, was at the scene examining the papers that came out of the hole. Digging started at 7 a.m. and finished up between noon and 1 p.m.
Chalker said that a lot of the papers that came out were food service documents associated with the county’s senior center.
“There was other stuff, too,” she said. “A lot of them had stuck together in big clumps. We can’t really tell until they dry out because when you start to pull them apart they pulled out plugs of the others.”
There were also items that appeared to be county check registers.
“My gut instinct is this: I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to bury records,” Konieczny said.
Chalker said that there are some documents from previous administrations missing from commissioners’ files, such as invoices from work done on renovations at the courthouse and on other county properties. She said she does not believe the county has any records of what was previously destroyed or how.
“You have to document the destruction,” Konieczny said. “You should have somebody signing off on it. Somebody should be responsible for archiving what would be of permanent value or historical value. Other documents might be of temporary value, but you still have to document them.”
County Attorney Barry Fleming said the county is just following what it was advised to do.
“Of course it’s not required that you keep every scrap of paper that ever flows through an office, but there is a retention schedule that says you keep this this long and that that long,” Fleming said. “Generally discarding records is not allowed.”
The county recovered 10 to 12 cubic feet of documents, which Chalker said was placed into 10 to 15 plastic bins. A cursory review of the documents revealed that some were dated 2005 to 2007.
Chalker said that she did not suspect there to be significant problem with the documents themselves and repeated that the county is just doing its due diligence.
“Anything on my watch I want to be finished,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to look back and say, ‘Hey, y’all knew this and didn’t do anything about it.’ I’d rather dig them up and dispose of them properly and there won’t be a cloud hanging over it for somebody else to try to solve later on.”
The sheriff’s office said its role in the retrieval operation had nothing to do with any investigation.
“At no point in time was this ever a criminal investigation,” Chief Deputy Jeremy Kelly said. “We were asked to assist with the dig and to document the dig with the camera in our patrol car.”
The documents are drying out and awaiting the return and review of the records management consultant.