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City Council Testimony:
Geof Huth, New York State Caucus Chair, Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference

I am here representing the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (or MARAC), an organization of approximately 1,100 archivists from an area covering New York state to Virginia. I am the MARAC caucus chair for New York state, in which role I represent the interests of our members from the state of New York, many of whom live and work in this city. MARAC appreciates this chance the Council has provided us to make known our concerns regarding the transfer of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's mayoral papers to a private entity.

Foremost, we believe that the entire endeavor is bad public policy. City records are public records that the city should maintain for the benefit of the public. The democratic ideals of our country require an informed citizenry, and much of the information citizens need is information about the operation of the government. The transfer of records to the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs will disrupt acceptable access to the public records of former Mayor Giuliani in two ways. First, the center will not be able to provide adequate access immediately to the records because at present it has no facility for making records available. Currently, the center is merely a storage facility. Second, the center will deal unfairly with the public's right to access by giving preferred access to employees of a private organization (the Giuliani Center) over the rights of the public.

What makes the transfer of these records even more disturbing is that the City of New York runs its own archives, part of the Department of Records and Information Services (or DORIS), and this archives currently maintains the official permanent records of the city. This archives has storage facilities, reference facilities for researchers, as well as full-time conservators and professional archivists. This archives, although in need of improvement as all archives are, is one of jewels of the state of New York. I have personally visited hundreds of local government archives across the state, including many in very large governments, yet I have never seen an archives that matches the breadth and professionalism of that of the city of New York. The quantity of records it holds, the number of researchers it serves, the number of requests it answers, the quality of the staff, and the range of services it provides are unparalleled in local government. And this archives is bigger and more robust even than many state archives. So what-we have to ask-is the benefit to the public of moving government records out of the direct control of this government?

We do grant that there certainly may be, within the mayoral papers of Rudolph Giuliani, records that are his private papers and which are not therefore government records. We believe that the City of New York has no claim to these records, and that the citizens of this city similarly have no right to insist on access to these records. However, we believe that the professional archivists of DORIS are the best equipped to separate the city's records from those of the private person, Rudolph Giuliani. Why? Because they work daily with the archival records of the city, they recognize what makes a record an official government record, and they will labor fairly to identify these records. Dozens of times I have seen situations across the state where former government officials maintained their own records and the official records of their governments intermixed, and the outcome is always the same: at least some part of the official record is lost. Sometimes the records have vanished, other times they are sold as if they were private papers, and frequently enough they are destroyed even though they should have been retained permanently. This is a result the City of New York should be sure to avoid.

To transfer the records to a private organization is to abrogate the city's responsibility to preserve and make available its historical records. An employee of the Giuliani Center made the unfair observation that DORIS was little more than a "dusty archives," but that person ignored what it is that makes an archives dusty-neglect. If the City of New York wants to retain its status as a beacon of democracy, it needs to determine how best to fund its own archives so that no one will ever again suggest that a better repository for the city's records is elsewhere.

One of the important reasons the city has for maintaining its own archives is that records naturally make more sense in a group than in their separate parts. For example, a single letter between two people makes the most sense when it is read in the context of a longstanding correspondence. Similarly, the records of the Office of the Mayor of the City of New York will be easier to understand when maintained in the context of the rest of the archival records of the city. If a researcher twenty years from now tries to understand the significance of an issue in the mayor's correspondence, having this correspondence managed by the same organization and stored together with related records from other city offices will make the records easier to interpret. To segregate the mayor's papers from the other archives of the city is to isolate them from the body of the city's records, which will only serve to damage the warp and weft of the historical record.

One solution that MARAC sees to the problem that we are facing right now (the transfer of mayoral records to a private entity) is for the city to redraft its records law, making sure it prohibits the transfer any of its official permanent records into private custody. We believe the city's records law should plainly state that records produced or received by the government of the City of New York in the conduct of official business are public records. We believe the records law should state that all permanent records of the City of New York must be managed and maintained by the Municipal Archives. We believe that if these changes are not made, then future mayoral papers may end up out of the control of the city itself. And we believe that, without these changes, the citizens of this city can never be promised full government accountability.

With all these issues in mind, the members of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference urge you to revoke the agreement transferring former Mayor Giuliani's records out of the custody of the City of New York and to ensure their safe return to the city archives. This change will help protect the value and accessibility of these important records for years to come. MARAC makes these statements not to be confrontational but to protect the public interest. And we make these statements promising to provide any assistance we can to help make our suggestions possible. We offer our professional advice and assistance to help the city modify its records law or address any issues related to the public's right to access to government records.

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Add your Name to the Petition | Press Conference, Feb. 6, 2002 | Protest Letters | News Articles | Testimony at the Feb. 20, 2002 City Council Hearing |
Defending the archives contract: Saul Cohen, President, Rudy Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs