Records Audit Reinforces Clerk’s Request for more Resources

Published on May 20, 2021

DENVER- In the interest of transparency and continuous process improvement, Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul D. López requested an audit of municipal recordkeeping processes immediately after he took office in July of 2019. The audit report is being released this week.

“We’re pleased the Auditor’s team independently identified and confirmed some of the same issues we saw when my team and I first came into office, said López. “As such, we couldn’t agree more with the need for more resources including better storage space, modern redaction software and adequate staffing. Having said that, there are numerous budgetary and legislative measures that must be prioritized to achieve them.” These documents are Denver’s history and are worth it.”

The Auditor’s office has raised an important concern for balancing public access to recorded land records with privacy concerns for personal information contained in recorded documents over the past 20 years. The Clerk and Recorder’s Office has been frustrated over the lack of comprehensive personal information redaction legislation to emerge from the federal government or the state legislature despite efforts to address privacy concerns.  

Upon taking office, Clerk set out to establish his goals and priorities for the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. First, he wanted to know to what extent operations were performed with effective and efficient controls and processes. López was keenly interested in the records keeping operations in the office of the City Clerk. 

For many years, City records have been stored in five different physical locations provided by the City and County of Denver to the Clerk’s office for records storage. The City Clerk position had been vacant for the bulk of 2019, and certain projects had been placed on hold including strategic planning for records management. The state of physical records in various storage locations and the need for a robust strategic plan to gather these records for preservation under consistent standards of digitization, indexing, and proper storage conditions became a top priority for López. 

“My jaw dropped when I learned that some of Denver’s historic records have been literally under old pipes and in a parking garage,” Clerk Paul D. López stated. “We now have a strategic plan in place prioritizing the audit recommendations some of which will require additional funding from the general fund for 2022.”

Globally, 2020 was an unprecedented year in which required López to rapidly adjust processes and priorities during a pandemic while also conducting three consequential elections in March, June and November as chief election official of the City and County of Denver. 

Despite these challenges, the office has taken many steps to revamp records management systems and have a strategic focus on Clerk and Recorder operations including physical storage of records, scanning and digitization, contract administration, staffing and succession planning, and benchmarking. The office implemented a new remote services model in just four days after public health orders restricted in-person office capacity and provided continuity of service during the pandemic by installing a secure drop box process for couples wanting to get married. This generated $2.3 million for Denver’s general fund.

The City Clerk department implemented a records management strategic plan in April 2021 which included numerous process improvements that were in the works prior to and during the audit. This includes:

  • Reviews the current state of the office’s collections including: physical storage conditions, the quality of metadata in digital repositories, and the quantity of records currently publicly available online 
  • Sets a goal of increasing access to public records by digitizing our collections. This includes the entire historical backlog of city council ordinances and minutes (since 1865), resolutions (since 1892), and proclamations (since 2006) 
  • Lays out a plan to address onsite storage concerns
  • Addresses technology needs to access and preserve records in obsolete formats, VHS, Microfilm, and old manuscripts. 

In addition, the City Clerk Administrator has been performing gap analysis on other city clerk operations and creating policies and procedures. This will continue following the guidance from the Auditor’s office. All projects and roles will be documented for internal records and succession planning.  

“I remain committed to transparency and open communications in making adjustments to records management practices to be consistent with industry practices. As a steward of taxpayer dollars, I am happy I requested this audit given that this level of transparency is good governance,” concluded López.