By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
In an age before electronic files, paper was king. Storing documents on papers that were then compiled into books was the standard for record keeping. However, over time, paper breaks down, particularly acidic paper that has been exposed to dust, humidity, insects and rodents, and environmental residue.
Since taking office a year ago, Liberty County Clerk Lee Chambers has been concerned about the condition of official documents in her safekeeping – birth, marriage, divorce and death records; deeds, liens and titles; county maps; marks and brands; bond records; county court and court at law minutes and judgments; probate records and wills; and business licenses. The oldest records on file date back to 1872, the year the previous Liberty County Courthouse and all its records were lost to fire.
“We have books storing papers that crack when you open them. You can actually hear the crack of the paper. You can almost hear the pages tearing and it’s heartbreaking,” she said. “While some of the paper is not that bad, some have ink that has faded to where you can hardly make out the writing anymore. Others have scotch tape holding pages together. That tape is now yellowed and deteriorating.”
The county clerk began looking into how the documents could be preserved with very little expense passed on to county taxpayers. The solution was the collection of an additional $10 fee to file a document with the county clerk’s office. The money collected will go into a County Clerk Archive Fund for the restoration and preservation of the County Clerk’s permanent records.
At the Tuesday, Feb. 11, Liberty County Commissioners Court meeting, commissioners approved the fee plan, which is expected to generate $200,000 to $300,000 per year. Liberty County Historical Commission Chair Linda Jamison commended Chambers on her efforts to preserve the historical documents.
Reading a proclamation in support of Chambers’ plan, Jamison said, “We are behind Mrs. Chambers’ plan. Last night we passed a resolution that I would like to read into the record if you would allow me.”
With the court’s permission, she continued, “Whereas the county clerk’s office for Liberty County houses many of the county’s historic records dating to 1872, and many records were lost in the courthouse fire; and whereas most of these old records are handwritten and have been subject to wear and tear from handling by county staff and the public, and whereas other damage to the records caused by acidic paper, high moisture levels, dust and environmental residue and inappropriate means of repair such as scotch and linen tapes are endangering these historically important records; and whereas to preserve these valuable documents and the role they play in our county history, the county clerk has proposed a multi-phase project to address the restoration and preservation of these records and books subject to statutory retention and maintenance; and whereas the collection of the Liberty County Clerk’s Office has been reviewed by two major companies that are preservation experts and will work under the guidelines, standards and procedures of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and whereas the plan will address the most immediate needs first and will phase in other areas of the collection as needed.”
While all the old documents will eventually be preserved, the first to undergo restoration will be the ones most at risk.
“They are going to treat the pages just like they would for an art restoration,” Chambers said.
Through the process, the documents will be backed up electronically and archived in a records management system that will preserve them for generations to come.
The County Clerk’s Office also authorized the $2,984 purchase of Docusign services. Docusign allows parties to electronically sign documents.
Commissioners also approved a $1 million road use agreement with Enterprise for a 1.3-mile section of CR 1051 where Enterprise plans to build a new pump station. The company also agreed to pay $100,000 to repair a dilapidated bridge on CR 1051, according to Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski. The company also agreed to $99,400 for improvements to CR 491.
A replat request for Santa Fe, Section 1, a Colony Ridge subdivision south of Plum Grove, received preliminary approval from the commissioners and they are expected to give a final approval in two weeks.
“The two weeks gives the community an opportunity to make comments on the document,” Liberty County Engineering Administrator and Grant Coordinator David Douglas explained to commissioners. “We got into a bad habit of taking in minor plats and pushing them through at the same time. We need to put a little window for the general public to make comments if they wish to do so.”
Trey Harris with Colony Ridge Development explained that the replatting was for an expanded easement area.
“We have a drainage channel that runs south. It hits an intersection of the road, doglegs over and goes south again. At that same intersection, I have water coming from the east and west, and in the past major rain events, there was more rain there than I would like, so what we are doing is for the water that was historically coming from the east at that intersection, I have cut another drain to the south to get it away before it gets to the intersection,” Harris said.
Commissioners also approved a bid from T. Johnson for $210,620 to remove an existing elevated water storage system and perform maintenance and repairs to the sewer system for Hull Fresh Water Supply District. The money for the project comes from a grant through the Texas Department of Agriculture, according to Douglas.
In the coming month, Liberty County plans to establish a board for the new Liberty County Drainage District. Judge Jay Knight anticipates the board having two community members from each of the county’s four precincts.
“We want representation on the board who will speak for the people in their precinct. A lot of people who live in the precincts are older people who understand drainage,” he said. “They are farmers, ranchers and landowners who own large tracts. They have been there a number of years and know where the water goes.”
Knight is also hoping to find people who have an understanding of government. The positions are not paid, so service on the board will be strictly voluntary. Anyone with an interest is asked to contact the commissioner in their precinct.
The commissioners will submit their recommendations for the board and the county judge will submit a board member for an at-large position.
“We need good people who have their hearts and interests in this county,” Knight said.