Bellevue City Hall has a vault where historical records are secured behind a locked, fireproof door.
Rows of classically bound books house the minutes and other records of city proceedings going back to 1932, the year Franklin Delano Roosevelt was first elected to the presidency, Jack Benny arrived on the radio, and the gas tax was imposed at the rate of a penny a gallon.
That was a long time ago.
And, said Finance Director Rich Severson, whose office houses the historical archive, there are many more records housed in storage rooms in and around the Bellevue City Council chambers.
City Clerk Sabrina Ohnmacht has records, too, mainly current records concerning contracts and they, too, are locked into fireproof cabinets.
The pending move of Bellevue City Hall to its new digs at 1500 Wall St. certainly involves moving a lot of tables, chairs and cabinets, but it also involves moving a lot of precious historical records, some of which — like minutes and ordinances — must be preserved on paper according to state law.
On the theory the story of Bellevue’s past cannot be made too safe, Ohnmacht said she is also making digital copies of minutes and ordinances, even if state law does not demand it.
The records are being digitized by scanning them through small devices, one of which sits on Ohnmacht’s desk, with the other stored under the desk of her assistant.
It is an ongoing process, Ohnmacht said, and will continue long after the move to Wall Street is complete.
In fact, she said, given the many thousands of pages that must be scanned, and the existence in all of City Hall of just two modest scanning devices connected to a document management system — hers — the various departments eventually will have to start scanning their own records.
“At some point the idea is to get every department with some sort of scanning feature, some kind of document management system, because it’s such a great benefit — it just makes documents so much easier to search,” she said.
For the time being, though, she and her assistant scan what they can when they can.
So far, she said, the minutes of council meetings have been digitized back to 1985, which leaves a lot of time untraveled and many documents waiting their turn.
While the minutes of council meetings and city ordinances must be maintained on paper, less historically critical documents such as contracts and background materials supporting council decisions may eventually be discarded, she said.
Even, there, though significant effort will be made to preserve as many documents as possible.
“It’s our history, so it’s something we need,” she said.
“People want to know what happened, and that means it would be nice to have the little things that we don’t necessarily have to keep.”