Records Management for
Wisconsin Municipalities


The Public Records Board (PRB) controls records retention in the State of Wisconsin, and must approve records disposition if any municipality wants a retention period that is less than the seven years required for government documents by Wis. Stats. 16.61(3)(e) and 19.21(4)(b). Even after the seven year retention period is up, the Municipal Clerk must notify the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) and wait 60 days before destroying any public record, (Wis. Stat. 19.21(4)(a)). However, if a record has an approved Records Disposition Authorization (RDA) from the PRB, WHS notification is required only for those record series the Board indicates by the word “notify”.

I have developed a records retention schedule for the 20 departments of the City of Waukesha that has been approved by the Public Records Board (PRB) of the State of Wisconsin. Even though the Waukesha schedule is not transferable, it can be used as a template and guide. I have also developed retention schedules for the City of Brookfield and the City of Elkhorn.  I can help a municipality obtain a unique, PRB-approved retention schedule. The Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) reviews the schedules submitted and provides waivers of notification for those record series it does not want. This is indicated by the word “waived”.  This frees a municipality from the required notification for each series and reduces the timeline for records retention. 

The primary driver in creating a proposed retention period is statutory. However, operating needs are the next priority, and may dictate that minimum times stipulated by legal requirements be exceeded. In most cases, however, seven years has been a burden from which the municipality is happy to escape.

The steps to obtaining a Board-approved retention schedule are:

  1. inventory and classify records by department, with easily-understood names and descriptions.
  2. develop a proposed retention period for each record, with emphasis on Wisconsin statutory requirements and operating needs. 
  3. obtain department, clerk, and other required municipal approvals. 
  4. address municipal clerk records’ custodian issues. 
  5. submit retention schedule to Board in RDA format.
  6. write new municipal ordinance adopting retention schedule.
  7. communicate new schedules to departments.
  8. implement the new retention schedules in departments

As a general rule, at least a third of records on hand can be discarded once a good retention schedule is implemented. I can provide a solution to being overwhelmed by paper – reports, computer printout, files, and boxes – by developing an RDA for each document that meets State requirements and the municipality’s operating needs. 

Additional services

Human Resources
An assessment of what employee documents are presently in departmental files can provide a municipality’s Human Resources or Legal department an inventory of what disciplinary and other performance-related information is being kept. We first arrive at a definition of what convenience copies are allowable in the departments. Best business practice is to have the originals of everything in HR’s central files, and convenience copies at the site in supervisor’s confidential files. It is important to have a Human Resources policy setting forth retention on convenience copies pertaining to employee performance. HR is always responsible for defending employee-related practices in a lawsuit, and having confidence in both the comprehensiveness of the central files and the lack of smoking guns in the departmental files is important.

Records that should not be included in an employee’s general HR file are:

medical/insurance records
EEO-invitations to self-identify disability or veteran status
immigration (I-9) forms
safety training records
child support/garnishment documents
litigation documents
workers’ compensation claims
old requests for employment verification and payroll information
from financial institutions.


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