Douglas Negotiating How Long Records Will Remain Private

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas needs to decide before he leaves office next week how long some of his administration’s most sensitive records will be sealed from the public.

And as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, for the first time, this process will involve a lot of electronic communications.

(Kinzel) For weeks, members of the Douglas administration have been poring over tens of thousands of documents that were generated over the past eight years. Those documents include correspondence from the governor to other politicians, to business leaders and to members of the public.   

They also include the frank opinions of members of the administration concerning new policy proposals or their views on a variety of controversial issues.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Dalton says there’s no set timeframe for sealing gubernatorial records. Former governors Madeleine Kunin and Dick Snelling selected a period of six years while Howard Dean chose ten years. 

Dalton describes the process of determining a proper time frame as "a delicate negotiation" between the outgoing governor and the secretary of state’s office – an office that includes the state archives.

(Dalton) "What you really want is an agreement. Because what the governor is relying on is the signature of the secretary of state saying, ‘Yes, this is the arrangement that has been made and the state Archives will honor that as well.’ And that’s part of the delicate piece of it."

(Kinzel) Dalton says the agreement will also cover all the electronic correspondence that’s been generated in the governor’s office since January of 2003.

(Dalton) "Because you got to remember that we’re not talking just about boxes of paper here, of correspondence. We’re talking about emails, as well. We’re talking about documents that are, in fact, transmitted digitally and could be part of the gubernatorial record."

(Kinzel) At his farewell press conference, Douglas said that while he would like to make many of the documents available immediately, he thinks some of them should be sealed:

(Douglas) "I need to respect the fact that there are a lot of communications from my staff and cabinet that are quite candid about individuals and their skills and personalities and choices that I had to make. I want to be sure the tradition of getting unvarnished candor from a governor’s team continues."

(Kinzel) Preliminary proposals about an appropriate time frame for sealing the records have been put on the table for discussion and the secretary of state’s office hopes to have an agreement in place by the end of the week.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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