An agreement reached days before the Shumlin administration left office lays out the ground rules for the public release of documents from his six years in office.
As Gov. Peter Shumlin’s successor was about to be sworn in last Thursday, documents began to arrive at the secretary of state’s office for archiving as his third and final two-year term came to an end.
Secretary of State Jim Condos and Shumlin signed a memorandum of understanding on Dec. 28, hammering out an archiving process for handling the largest number of documents ever archived by a Vermont governor.
“This is the most amount of records that the archive has ever received from a retiring governor,” Condos said. “It’s just the nature of the beast, as technology is ramping up and being used more and more, there are more documents that will be preserved.”
The secretary of state’s office began receiving the records from Shumlin’s office around 1:30 p.m. Thursday, the same time as the swearing-in ceremony began for Gov. Phil Scott.
“Unfortunately, we have not had as much lead time as we would have liked to understand the size, type and format of records,” Condos said.
Negotiations over the MOU, which went on for months, involved determining what records could be kept under executive privilege and how long it would be before they could be released to the public. The parties agreed on a six-year period, the same number of years Shumlin was in office and the identical timeframe as the one agreed to by former Gov. James Douglas. It’s also four years less than the 10-year period for former Gov. Howard Dean.
Documents from the Douglas years kept in the state’s archive under executive privilege became public Monday, six years from when he left office.
Condos says the materials that are not privileged will be publicly available as soon as they have been organized by the archivist.
A document attached to the MOU provides an index of what documents from the governor’s office have been transferred to the secretary of state’s office for archiving.
Among those listed in the index as “open” are agreements, authorizations of land agreements, photos, videos and correspondence with constituents. Personal identifying information such as a Social Security number has been redacted.
Those items withheld from public review for six years under executive privilege include the governor’s calendar, daily briefing materials, “substantive” correspondence of staff, such as staff letters, emails and bill reviews.”
Another category lists documents on “litigation hold.”
Those records include documents related to the EB-5 immigrant investor fraud case brought by the state against Jay Peak developers, Ariel Quiros, the resort’s owner, and Bill Stenger, the resort’s former president and CEO. They consist of 2.86 GB of digital records and a 2-inch folder of paper records.
Also listed on “litigation hold” are documents related to legal action involving PFOA contamination in Bennington. Those documents are about 747 MB.
The original, unredacted records are being sent to the archives and marked as under a litigation hold, with the attorney general’s office keeping duplicates for the cases.
Before the MOU was signed, the governor’s office and the Vermont attorney general had insisted on only providing the state archivist with redacted documents from the EB-5 cache. Condos prevailed, and originals will be kept at the archive.
The release of the documents on litigation hold is “to be determined by AGO (attorney general’s office).”
The AG cites attorney-client privilege as one of the reasons for barring access to the records.
The memorandum of understanding spells out the process for the release of archival records subject to the executive privilege claim prior to the end of the six-year period.
Those documents can only be released by a court order; with written approval by Shumlin; to the staff of the state archives “in so far as necessary to assure archival security”; or, if the record had intentionally been placed in the “public domain” by either the governor or attorney general.
The Vermont State Archives & Records Administration in Middlesex, is currently processing the records transferred from the governor’s office.
Tanya Marshall, state archivist, said she’s not sure how long that will take.
“We’ve never got a transfer of this size, electronically,” she said. “The goal is anything that doesn’t have exemptions on it, and that we can actually process into a browser so people can access it, that’s what we’re doing first.”
Among the first items posted on the secretary of state’s website for Shumlin’s records are YouTube videos.
Shumlin’s digital records total 1 terabyte, or 1,024 gigabytes. By contrast, few digital records are included in the records held under the executive privilege by Douglas that became public Monday. The papers sit in nearly 50 cardboard boxes inside the archive’s vault.
Shumlin’s digital documents, as they become publicly available, will be posted on the secretary of state’s website.
Correction: The state archives are housed in Middlesex, not Williston as stated in an earlier version.