A record achievement for Pitkin County
Ryan Summerlin December 28, 2012
ASPEN – Want to know what the Pitkin County commissioners were up to a century ago?
Anyone with access to the Internet can find out.
For the record, at the final meeting of commissioners in December 1912, the elected officials convened “to hear excuses of persons that did not vote at (the) last General Election.” Four individuals appeared before commissioners in order to have their names retained on the voter-registration books.
The records of county government, from its start in 1881 to the present, including meeting minutes, resolutions, ordinances and contracts, have all been scanned and digitized and are available online. Putting them there was no small undertaking.
It is the culmination of a 17-year effort by Jeanette Jones, clerk to the Board of County Commissioners and record manager in the county Clerk and Recorder’s Office, to provide a complete and accurate record of county government and make it available to the public.
“I just decided it was important,” Jones said. “The reason it has taken all these years is I have other tasks.”
Jones has been custodian of the board’s records since she began work in the Clerk’s Office in 1987. From that point on, minutes have been kept meticulously along with the relevant attachments (ordinances and resolutions adopted at the meetings, for example) but before 1987, the county’s paper trail was a lot harder to follow.
The minutes from 1974 through 1986, for example, were stored on microfilm, but referenced attachments weren’t there.
“When the minutes said, ‘See this exhibit,’ the exhibit was missing,” Jones recalled.
She eventually stumbled across them in a downstairs vault – boxes stuffed with paper copies of ordinances, resolutions and such.
It took about three years for Jones and a colleague in the Clerk’s Office to get them all organized, indexed and then sent to a vendor who transferred them to microfilm – at that time the preferred method of document storage.
By 1998, the county and city of Aspen had both chosen a new document-management system, moving away from microfilm to Laserfiche. Both local governments began scanning their documents for storage in a digitized format that a viewer can read, download to a computer and print out on paper.
The multitude of records saved on microfilm were converted to the new digital format, and slowly but surely, the paper records from 1881 to 1974 were scanned, as well.
The oldest records, handwritten and kept in bound books, were photographed page by page by a vendor in order to provide digital images of the manuscript.
In short, countless pages have been scanned one by one and organized in online files that users can search by dates, keywords and indexes.
“It was very labor-intensive. That’s why it took so many years to do it,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of history here.”
Records from the Planning and Zoning Commission also have been digitized, as have some records from other county departments. Jones is now tackling the history of the county’s Home Rule Charter, from the minutes of the committee that initially drafted the document to the first version, approved by voters in 1978, and all the amendments that have followed.
Go to www.aspenpitkin.com/Departments/Pitkin-County-Records-Search to conduct a records search (click on the “Browse to a File” link). For a demonstration and presentation by Jones on the undertaking that put the county documents online, catch the county commissioners’ Jan. 15 meeting on GrassRoots TV or in person. The topic is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
The county isn’t the only local government that has been digitizing its records. At Aspen City Hall, a similar effort has been ongoing. City Council minutes dating back to 1960 are available online, as are ordinances going back to 1949 and resolutions dating back to 1955.
“The rule in record keeping is you start with today and keep current and you go backward, so you’re moving in two different directions,” said City Clerk Kathryn Koch.
City records, too, date back to the 1880s, but the older records would be difficult to search through even if they are made available digitally, Koch noted.
A keyword search doesn’t work for handwritten text, and city officials didn’t keep copies of the council’s ordinances and resolutions before 1949 and 1955, respectively. Instead, they cut copies of published notices from the newspaper and pasted them into the volumes of council minutes, she said.
“They glued them in the minutes book, and that became the official record,” Koch said.