Conway adopts records policy after Historical Commission’s taking of documents

Conway’s town vault, where the vast majority of the community’s historical records are stored.

Conway’s town vault, where the vast majority of the community’s historical records are stored. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-10-2024 11:22 AM

CONWAY — With the adoption of a new policy this week, historical records have been returned to the town vault following a “series of misunderstandings” between the Historical Commission and town clerk over the custody and safety of the records.

After an hour-long discussion, the Selectboard adopted a formal records policy to ensure there will be no future confusion when it comes to accessing town records. The policy, based on Massachusetts General Laws, identifies Town Clerk Laurie Lucier as the records access officer and states any records under her purview must “remain in the town’s fireproof vault under the care of the town clerk.”

“The one thing that is clear to me is that we’re at where we’re at through a series of misunderstandings,” Selectboard Chair Philip Kantor said prior to the discussion this week. “The thinking is a policy that delineates the keeping of the records and the storage of the records would be a good thing to prevent future misunderstandings and miscommunications.”

On April 12, members of the Historical Commission were given permission from the Assessors’ Office — Lucier was out of the office — to enter the vault to retrieve some of their records, but members took additional boxes containing old Selectboard meeting minutes and historical annual town reports after a musty smell in the room raised concerns about mold damaging the records, according to commission member Yulia Stone.

“There was immediate concern about mold and water. … We didn’t want those documents ruined,” said Stone, who noted she was attending the meeting in her personal capacity and not for the Historical Commission. “We did not touch or remove any of the records under the purview of the town clerk.”

When Lucier returned to work the following week, she discovered the records were not in the vault and informed other town officials, as she is the legal custodian of the records and is legally responsible for them. The state has a wide-ranging records retention schedule and items like town reports and meeting minutes must be permanently retained. She noted most town departments have turned over their records to her.

“They are all public records, so now they’re in a place where if I have someone looking for information, I don’t have it,” Lucier said at Monday’s Selectboard meeting. “I’m not against [the Historical Commission] researching, I’m against the records not being in the fireproof vault and [not] in the same place.”

Records, according to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 66, Section 12, must be kept in a fireproof vault — something Conway is historically familiar with, as the town offices burned down in 1878.

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Kantor and fellow board member Chris Waldo emphasized there was no ill intent from any Historical Commission members, who were trying to protect records. The records in question have since been returned to the vault.

“I know records were taken out to help preserve them because people were worried that they would be damaged,” Waldo said. “The only thing we’re trying to get to is just to say records should not be removed without the clerk’s approval, that’s it.”

Addressing concerns about mold, the Selectboard and Town Administrator Veronique Blanchard said a representative from the Department of Public Health did some initial air quality testing and found there were no immediate issues, although a full report is pending.

“He didn’t raise any alarms when we were there, that anything was in imminent danger in that vault, at all,” Blanchard said. “Those records are now vulnerable to fire … so, in my mind anyway, it’s much safer to put them all back into the vault where they were because it’s much safer.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.