Department of Health and Family Services
Division of Children and Family Services
Division of Supportive Living

              DCFS Memo Series 2001 - 07
              DSL Memo Series 2001 - 07
              May 15, 2001

              Re: COUNTY RECORDS

                   Revises DCS Memo 92-12


To: Area Administrators/Assistant Area Administrators
Bureau Directors
Council Directors
County Departments of Community Programs Directors
County Departments of Developmental Disabilities
      Services Directors
County Departments of Human Services Directors
County Departments of Social Services Directors
Program Office Directors/Section Chiefs
Tribal Chairpersons/Human Services Facilitators
From: Susan N. Dreyfus
Division of Children and Family Services
Sinikka McCabe
Division of Supportive Living

Document Summary

This memo provides general information on developing a county records management program and writing a records ordinance to legally dispose of records. It includes guidelines for the disposition of various records which can be used during the ordinance process.

 The Divisions have received many requests for information regarding policies, statutes or administrative rules that govern the retention and the disposition/destruction of county records. These records include social service case records, child placing agency records, licensing/certification files for day care centers, adult family homes, foster homes, group homes and shelter care facilities and mental health, alcohol/drug abuse and developmental disabilities treatment records.

This Numbered Memo will provide general guidelines, relevant statutory references and an example of a well developed county records ordinance. It is the responsibility of each county to work with their program and legal staff to determine appropriate retention periods based on administrative, historical and legal needs and statutory requirements.

We are also providing a list of those counties with approved records ordinance, along with a contact person for each. (Attachment #2)


There are several statutes that relate to the destruction of public records but the primary controlling statute is s. 19.21, Stats. "Custody and Delivery of Official Property and Records." Section 19.21 (5), Stats. specifically governs the destruction of county records as follows:

(5)   (a) Any county having a population of 500,000 or more may provide by ordinance for the destruction of obsolete public records. . .

       (b) Any county having a population of less than 500,000 may provide by ordinance for the destruction of obsolete public records, subject to
s. 59.52(4)(b) and (c). . . .

      (c) The period of time any public records shall be kept before destruction shall be determined by ordinance except that in all counties the specific period of time expressed within s. 7.23 or s. 59.52(4)(a) or any other law requiring a specific retention period shall apply. The period of time prescribed in the ordinance for the destruction of all records not governed by s. 7.23 or s. 59.52(4)(a) or any other law prescribing a specific retention period may not be less than 7 years, unless a shorter period is fixed by the Public Records Board under
s. 16.61(3)(e).

     (d) 1. Except as provided in subd. 2., prior to any destruction of records under this subsection, except those specified within s. 59.52(4)(a), at least 60 days' notice of such destruction shall be given in writing, to the historical society, which may preserve any records it determines to be of historical interest. Notice is not required for any records for which destruction has previously been approved by the historical society or in which the society has indicated that it has no interest for historical purposes. Records which have a confidential character while in the possession of the original custodian shall retain such confidential character after transfer to the historical society unless the director of the historical society, with the concurrence of the original custodian, determines that such records shall be made accessible to the public under such proper and reasonable rules as the historical society promulgates.

      (d) 2. Subdivision 1. does not apply to patient health care records, as defined in s. 146.81(4), that are in the custody or control of a local health department, as defined in s. 250.01(4).

     (e) The county board of any county may provide, by ordinance, a program for the keeping, preservation, retention and disposition of public records including the establishment of a committee on public records and may institute a records management service for the county and may appropriate funds to accomplish such purposes.

The State Historical Society has waived the notification requirement under s. 19.21(5)(d) for all non-historical records which are identified through the ordinance process. Since most county records do not have secondary historical value it has become much easier for county departments to destroy obsolete records. The attached example of a county records ordinance (A