Statement Before NY City Council's Committee on Government Operations on the Matter of Rudolph Giuliani's Mayoral Records

February 20, 2002
Presented by Thomas Connors for SAA

My name is Thomas Connors and I am speaking as a member of the national governing Council of the Society of American Archivists.

The Society of American Archivists is the oldest and largest national professional organization of archivists in North America. SAA serves the educational and informational needs of more than 3600 archivists and provides leadership to ensure the identification of, the preservation of, and access to records of historical importance.

On behalf of the Society of American Archivists I thank you for providing the opportunity to present our national association's point of view on the matter of the disposition of the mayoral records of Mr. Rudolph Giuliani.

SAA is interested in this issue because we think that Mr. Giuliani's decision to by-pass the Department of Records and Information Services sends the wrong message to government officials not only in New York but across America—that message being that it is perfectly reasonable and ethical to treat public records as private property. The records under scrutiny here were created during Mr. Giuliani's tenure as mayor of New York City and are therefore public records.

By transferring his documentary record as a public servant to a private entity, the Giuliani Center for Public Affairs, he effectively removes his actions as mayor from the scrutiny of members of the public who wish to learn how, why and when certain decisions were made in order to assess specific Giuliani-era policies as well as his overall performance as the mayor of perhaps the most vital of American cities. The supposed inability of the municipal archives to handle the Giuliani papers has been cited as one reason for this act of privatization. A better approach, one supported by archivists and historians alike, would be to provide DORIS with the funding it needs to process the materials in a timely fashion and to properly manage them over time.

What particularly concerns the Society of American Archivists is that Mr. Giuliani's action is taking place against a national backdrop wherein other government officials are attempting to create barriers to access to public information. As an example of this I cite President Bush's Executive Order 13233 which places ultimate responsibility for decisions regarding access to presidential papers with President Bush as opposed to the Archivist of the U.S., whose jurisdiction in this regard follows from the Presidential Records Act of 1978. I can also cite U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's October 2001 memorandum to federal agencies informing them that should they decide to deny FOIA requests, the Department of Justice will back them up. For other examples of government hostility to free and open access to information, I refer you to New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum's February 3rd article, "When Government Doesn't Tell," and Alison Cowan's more recent Times piece, "Battling Over Records of Bush's Governorship" (February 11, 2002).

In a December 2001 Washington Post op-ed piece on Executive Order 13233, SAA president Steven L. Hensen asked the question "How can a democratic people have confidence in elected officials who hide the records of their actions from public view?" I would rephrase the question to ask: How can the people of New York City have confidence in elected officials who decide to privatize their records thus removing them from public review?

In September 2001 the people and institutions of the City of New York were attacked by the forces of global terror. The world has applauded as New Yorkers, individually and through their institutions, have come together to rebuild and recover from that terrible body blow. Mr. Giuliani's actions regarding his archives seems to run counter to this spirit of coming together. This is a time when New York's public institutions need to be strengthened, not weakened.

This is also a time when the institutions of American freedom, especially those institutions associated with freedom of information, need to be strengthened, not weakened.

The Society of American Archivists encourages you to act to revoke Mr. Giuliani's disposition of his mayoral records and return them to City custody.

Thank you.