Special districts, along with state agencies, municipalities, counties, and many other units of government, must comply with Florida's public records laws.

Public records are all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, regardless of the physical form, characteristics, or means of transmission, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency (see Chapter 119, Florida Statutes - Public Records).

Public records can take many forms, for example:

  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Email
  • Meeting Transcripts
  • Maps
  • Duplicates

However, the following are not public records:

  • Law books
  • Magazines
  • Email that is not sent or received in relation to public business (unless it becomes part of an official investigation such as into alleged misuse of government property)

Records Management

Special districts must create a records management program to help the special district maintain and locate records from the time of creation or receipt to final disposition. To accomplish this task, designate a Records Management Liaison Officer as required by section 257.36, Florida Statutes - Records and information management, Paragraph (5)(a). Suggested Records Management Liaison Officer responsibilities include the following:

  • Serving as the special district's contact with the Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services
  • Coordinating the special district's records inventory
  • Maintaining retention/disposition forms
  • Coordinating special district records management training
  • Developing records management procedures
  • Participating in the special district's development of electronic record keeping systems
  • Working with the Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services, to establish individual retention schedules for the special district, if necessary.

Retention Schedules

A special district may destroy or dispose of its public records only in accordance with retention schedules established by the Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services. Special districts must follow General Records Schedule GS1-SL for State and Local Government Agencies. The schedule organizes records into a number of "record series."

A record series is a group of related public records that are arranged under a single filing arrangement or kept together as a unit (physically or intellectually) because they:

  • Consist of the same form
  • Relate to the same subject or function
  • Result from the same activity
  • Document a specific type of transaction, or
  • Have some other relationship arising from their creation, receipt, or use

A record series might contain records in a variety of forms and formats that document a particular program, function, or activity of the special district.

The components of a General Schedule Record Series are:

  • Record Series Title - Brief phrase summarizing the form and/or function of the record series
  • Item Number - Identifying number assigned to each record series
  • Description - General description of the records, their purpose and/or how they are used, and types of records that might be included; identifies records that have possible archival value
  • Retention - The minimum period of time the records must be retained before final disposition. Types of retention periods include:
    • Anniversary Years
    • Calendar Years
    • Fiscal Years
    • Triggering Events
    • Until obsolete, superseded, or administrative value is lost
    • Permanent

An example of a record series from the General Records Schedule GS1-SL is:

This record series documents capital improvement projects in progress and/or project proposals sent out for bid. This may include, but is not limited to, correspondence, memoranda, drawings, construction and contract specifications, resolutions, narratives, budget revisions, survey information, change orders, and reports. "Capital Improvements" shall mean improvements to real property (land, buildings, including appurtenances, fixtures and fixed equipment, structures, etc.), that add to the value and extend the useful life of the property, including construction of new structures, replacement or rehabilitation of existing structures (e.g., major repairs such as roof replacement), or removal of closed structures. See also "PROJECT FILES: FEDERAL," "PROJECT FILES: NON-CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT," and "VOUCHERS: FEDERAL PROJECTS PAID."
RETENTION: Ten fiscal years after completion of project.

Records Disposal

Special districts should dispose of public records once those records have met all retention requirements.  Special districts must document each disposition of public records as required by Rule 1B-24.003(9)(d), Florida Administrative Code. A sample Records Disposition Document is available on the Division of Library and Information Services website.

Do not dispose of the record if it involves:

  • Active or anticipated litigation
  • An ongoing or pending audit
  • A public records request within the last 30 days
  • An administrative need to keep it

When physically destroying records, do it in a manner that safeguards the interests of the special district and the safety, security, and privacy of individuals (see Rule 1B-24.003, Florida Administrative Code - Records Retention Scheduling and Disposition - paragraph (10)). Specify the manner of records destruction when documenting disposition. When possible, recycle the material.

If the records contain information that is confidential or exempt from disclosure, make sure it is destroyed in such a way that it cannot practicably be read, reconstructed, or recovered. Do not bury confidential or exempt records since burying does not ensure complete destruction or unauthorized access. Examples of appropriate methods of destruction include the following:

  • Paper records - include burning, pulverizing, shredding, or macerating
  • Electronic records - shredding, crushing, incineration; high-level overwriting, and degaussing or demagnetizing
  • Other non-paper media (such as audio tape, video tape, microforms, photographic films, etc.) - pulverizing, shredding, and chemical decomposition and recycling

Disposition of Public Records Upon Dissolution or Merger

Florida public agencies, including special districts, are responsible for ensuring the appropriate transfer or disposition of their public records upon dissolution or merger with another entity.

When a special district merges with another entity, its public records are transferred to the new entity.

Excluding community development districts established under Chapter 190, Florida Statutes, when a special district dissolves, its public records become property of the applicable county or municipality.

If any special district dissolves and does not have a successor or parent agency to which it could transfer its public records, or for a community development district established under Chapter 190, Florida Statutes, that dissolves without transferring its functions to an applicable county or municipality, custody of public records is governed by section 257.36, Florida Statutes - Records and information management (see paragraph (2)(b)):

If an agency is dissolved and the legislation dissolving that agency does not assign an existing agency as the custodian of public records for the dissolved agency’s records, then the Cabinet is the custodian of public records for the dissolved agency, unless the Cabinet otherwise designates a custodian.

These special districts must contact the Florida Cabinet prior to dissolution to determine the legal custodian for its public records, EXCEPT: districts created and dissolved by administrative rule of the Florida Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission as authorized by Section 190.005, Florida Statutes – Establishment of district should contact the Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services, Bureau of Archives and Records Management to arrange for appropriate disposition of their records.

Do not send public records to the Department of State in Tallahassee unless specifically authorized to do so by the Department of State. While the Department of State may accept physical custody for storage at the expense of the custodial agency if requested (see section 119.021, Florida Statutes - Custodial requirements; maintenance, preservation, and retention of public records paragraph (4)(a)), they are required to accept legal custody only if the Cabinet designates the Department of State as legal custodian.

Annual Compliance Statement

Once a year, special districts must submit to the Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services, a signed statement attesting to the special district's compliance with records disposition laws, rules, and procedures as required by Rule 1B-24.003, Florida Administrative Code. The Department of State will send the required form to each special district's designated Records Management Liaison Officer or records custodian in early November of each year. Each special district must complete and return it by December 31 of that year to the address indicated on the form. A special district that does not receive a form by the end of November should contact the Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services (see link below).

Contact Someone Who Can Answer Questions About Public Records Retention and Disposition

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