HALF MOON BAY -- Destroying old records is typically a routine affair, but the San Mateo County Harbor District's proposal to eliminate outdated files has generated a small uproar.
The district first proposed destroying the records Jan. 15, but the board of commissioners put off a decision until Wednesday in response to objections from board member Sabrina Brennan and several members of the public.
Brennan claimed the district is under investigation by the county civil grand jury, and should hold off on destroying documents until the inquiry is complete. Some citizens said purging records could jeopardize pending Public Records Act requests and expressed concerns about transparency, citing the board's recent decision to cease videotaping its meetings.
The records proposed for destruction include accounts payable files from 2005 to 2008 and other financial documents, such as old checks and pay stubs. Brennan and others said they were concerned pertinent documents could be obliterated.
Peter Grenell, general manager of the district, said last week that the furor over the records is a "needless controversy." No records that have been requested from the district will be purged, he said.
"This is something that we should do and need to do," said Grenell, whose organization runs the Oyster Point Marina in South San Francisco and Pillar Point Harbor north of Half Moon Bay. "Otherwise we're running out of storage space."
The initial list of documents proposed for destruction, however, contained items that the district's records policy never allows to be destroyed, such as board meeting agendas and minutes. The district has since removed those records from the list.
Terry Francke, an expert on public records, said it's not at all unusual for agencies to destroy documents that are several years old.
"It's a very general, if not a universal phenomenon, to have local agencies maintaining and observing orderly destruction policies," said Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a nonprofit focused on public access to government activities.
But the district's proposal raised eyebrows because it followed several unusual occurrences over the past year, including the reported discovery last summer of $38,000 in checks from district tenants that had never been deposited and the board's decision in November to stop videotaping its meetings. The district still records podcasts of its proceedings.
Harvey Rarback, a member of the Coastside Fire Protection District board, wrote an email to the district last month calling its proposal to destroy documents "suspicious."
"The decision of the (district) to stop the videotaping of your meetings," he wrote, "was another step in reducing the transparency of your agency and causing the public to wonder what you have to hide."
Brennan said Monday she was not at liberty to elaborate about her claim last month regarding the grand jury. She said she is inclined to vote against the records destruction, noting she has had a difficult time obtaining information she's requested from staff.
"I have a lack of confidence right now in what's being provided to me," she said.
The grand jury did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. Its proceedings are confidential.
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.
What: San Mateo County Harbor District board of commissioners meeting
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Comfort Inn, 2930 Cabrillo Highway (Highway 1), Half Moon Bay