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Stored or shredded: Washington County records in transition for new archive

Gary B. Gray • Jan 26, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Washington County deeds, court cases and other records, some dating back 230 years, are finally being moved out of Johnson City’s Downtown Centre and closer to their place of origin in Jonesborough.

Sheriff’s deputies, county court staff, county officials, inmates, a mobile paper shredder and three 48-foot tractor-trailers began the process Wednesday. Non-essential county bookkeeping documents were loaded into bins that then were placed on a lift that dumped the contents into a Shred-A-Way Mobile Document Destruction vehicle. These documents were shredded and will be recycled.

Meanwhile, inmates and court staff supplied much of the physical labor required to get the files and bound books transferred to the tractor-trailers.

“This is where the majority of our records have been stored,” said Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn. “This will be stored in the truck beside the county detention center, and I’ll have to walk into them to retrieve records until we move stuff over to the old jail in downtown Jonesborough.”

The plan is to convert Mayor Dan Eldridge’s current digs at the Washington County Office Building to a permanent storage area for archives. Eldridge and county staff will move into Washington County Courthouse.

Guinn said the county’s new archivist eventually will give her and other officials the dates needed for storage.

Washington County and the Johnson City Development Authority closed on the sale of the Downtown Centre about two months ago. In the deal, the county sold the building to the JCDA for $1 million. The Downtown Centre housed the county’s court system until 2009 when courts were moved to the larger George P. Jaynes Justice Center, leaving only a few county offices in the building.

With its loan, the JCDA will pay the county, contribute up to $1 million to the building’s renovations, and then lease it to Northeast State Community College.

The Downtown Centre has been used by the county for records storage and other functions since 1987. Before that, the records had been stored in the old Ashe Street courthouse in Johnson City.

“It will be at least a couple months before we get a secure area,” said Willie Shrewsbury, the county’s purchasing agent. “The materials deemed archives will be moved to the office building; the remainder will stay at the old jail. We did the bulk of the shredding last week. Those were taken off site and destroyed. Some sheriff’s deputies are here because even though some of their documents may be headed for the shredder, state law requires them to be on site.”

Shrewsbury said work will continue until the beginning of next week and will include the removal of shelving, furniture, filing cabinets, chairs and other materials.

“Some of this will be auctioned off, and some will be put in storage and used for surplus,” he said.

According to Tennessee state statute, county clerks’ duties include keeping the official records of the county legislative body. Additionally, county clerks are required to hold a seat on a county’s Public Records Commission, as ex officio members.

Clerk Kathy Storey interacts frequently with the Public Records Commission, Register of Deeds Ginger Jilton, Guinn and others in Washington County’s effort to maintain proper oversight, storage and public availability of its records dating back more than 230 years.

Washington County’s records are open to the public. For more information, call the clerk’s office at 753-1621.

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