By Court Clerk In
On W. Depot Street
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Thousands of the county's court files have sustained extensive water, mold and mildew damage that Circuit Court Clerk Pam Venerable said she discovered on Monday.
Venerable, who was named Interim Circuit Court Clerk following the mid-term retirement this summer of former Clerk Gail Davis Jeffers, is the only candidate for the office in the November election.
She reported to the Greene County Records Committee on Thursday that an individual's request for a divorce judgment from the 1970s prompted her to look for the document in the former Greene County-Greeneville Emergency Medical Services building on West Depot Street.
The building is located behind Casper's Body Shop and Wrecker Service, LLC.
Venerable said that she had never been in the building before, but knew that some of the Circuit Court, Juvenile Court and Criminal Court documents were stored there.
When she arrived at the building on Monday afternoon, however, she said she found water leaking out beneath the door, and opened it to find what she described as some areas with three inches of standing water, and heavily-damaged boxes of court records.
MOLD AND MILDEW
In a later interview with The Greeneville Sun, Venerable said 149 "Bankers Boxes" -- each containing between 20-150 files, were affected.
She estimated this would average between 60 and 80 files per box, depending on the thickness of individual files.
If 60 files were the average per box, there would be nearly 9,000 damaged files.
The years represented in these files were not yet known, outside of the one 1970s case, but Venerable said she believes them to be "old" documents.
She did estimate that there were more juvenile cases involved than criminal cases.
A staff member in Venerable's office said that the actual court orders from these cases are safe in minute books that were stored in a different location.
COULD SMELL IT OUTSIDE
"We found it Monday. Who knows when it happened?" Venerable told the Records Committee. "Some of them [the files] are so wet, it may have been there longer than that [Monday]. There's a lot of mold and mildew involved."
"I heard that you could smell it outside," Commissioner David Crum said.
"You could. We actually went in with masks on," Venerable stated.
The water leak is believed to have been caused by a faulty skylight, she said.
ADVICE IS SOUGHT
After finding the damaged documents, Venerable said she contacted County Mayor Alan Broyles and worked with the county's insurance advisor, Dan Jackson.
She said she also spoke with the Circuit Court Clerk in Washington County, who she said has dealt with a similar situation.
With the aid and advice of these individuals, Venerable on Wednesday arranged to send the records to DFD Document Restoration Services, located in Livonia, Mich.
Meanwhile, the company advised local officials to handle the materials as little as possible, prompting Venerable and her staff to directly handle only the files in boxes that had disintegrated from the water damage.
On Thursday, Venerable assured the Records Committee that the files were being moved in a secure transfer to Michigan in a sealed truck on a no-stop trip.
The records should have arrived in Michigan by the time she was making the announcement to the Records Committee early Thursday morning, Venerable said.
DFD Document Restoration Services will freeze-dry the records and attempt to restore them before shipping them back to Greene County, she said.
"They're not guaranteeing me everything is going to come back legible, because of the mold issue," Venerable added.
"If there was mold, that didn't happen last week," said Don Miller, director of the Greeneville-Greene County Public Library.
County Mayor Alan Broyles said in an interview on Thursday that the county's insurance advisors estimated that the leak occurred "four or five days ago."
He also said that he had been told the document restoration is "going to be a costly venture," but he did not have any estimates at this time. He indicated that price negotiations were ongoing.
Broyles said that documents have been stored in the Depot Street building for a number of years.
"I really don't know how many years, but for quite a while," he said. "We filled up the space down in the warehouse and started storing records [in the former EMS building]."
The Greene County Emergency Management Agency, Greeneville-Greene County Bomb Squad and Greene County Sheriff's Department have also used the building for various storage needs, he added.
Mayor Broyles said he was not aware of any scheduled routine checks of the building or documents.
"We're over there from time to time," he said. "It's not likely that it's been closed up and forgotten about. People have been in there."
EMS Director Robert Sayne said today that the agency moved to its current location about 2007. He said he is not aware of when the county began storing records there.
OTHER DOCUMENTS SAFE
Sheriff Steve Burns said in an interview on Thursday that documents he had stored in the building were not damaged and were not vital records.
He added that he has moved his documents to another location.
Venerable said that she will need to do the same once the documents are returned to the county, but added that she does not know where she will find the necessary space.
The Records Committee closed Thursday's meeting with a unanimous vote to approve Venerable's "emergency action" in which she allowed the company to remove the documents and begin restoration.