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Bob McMillanAn Opinion

By Bob McMillan
Presidents v. The Supreme Court

The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention.  President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd.  Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.

Michael Miller


By Michael Miller
1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing

Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination for Governor in 1958 was partly an upstate revolt against the continued domination of party affairs by the Nassau Republican organization. Rockefeller was a man who always had bigger fish to fry, and throughout his almost 15 years as governor, he often went out of his way not to step on the toes of the touchy Nassau GOP. That’s why Nassau is the only large New York county without a state office building. Respect the turf.

Just before taking office, Rockefeller announced that State Senator William Hults would be Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, but not until the end of the 1959 legislative session, so that Glen Cove, North Hempstead, Oyster Bay and a sliver of Hempstead wouldn’t lose their Senate representation until 1960.

Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’

The Nassau County district attorney’s (DA) office makes a cameo appearance in Empty Mansions, an incredible book about Huguette Clark (1906-2011), the Manhattan-raised heiress whose generosity and eccentricities were legendary.

Now that Ryan Murphy, a creator of television’s “Glee,” has optioned Empty Mansions’ film rights, I imagine a scrum of top actresses are vying to play Clark.

On the Record

There will be enough political stress over the next several days. This week, I offer the pipe of peace and urge thought and action on the most nonpartisan of subjects. Though the focus here is on local governments and public agencies, it all can be applied just as easily to businesses of all sizes and to your personal work. People in authority over public records, archives, libraries and data of all kinds need to dedicate the near future to checking, rechecking, rethinking, revising and re-envisioning their plans and procedures for keeping those materials safe for now and for the future. Clocks are ticking all over.

If you’re a data caretaker or policy maker, some problems you thought you had licked a long time ago may be coming back to haunt you. The true life expectancy of optical media (CD, DVD, Blu-Ray) is unknown, and it’s clear from published reports and personal observation that some types are failing faster than anticipated. In particular, many writeable CDs from 10 years ago or less are giving error messages, with demagnetized spots that make some or all data irretrievable. Software needed to access some data is no longer published or supported, and may no longer run on newer machines or operating systems. CDs themselves are soon going the way of microfilm and vinyl records.

Simply digitizing material didn’t mean the work was over. There’s no longer a good rationale for not digitizing everything.

Whether the information you care for is needed for daily transactions or historical completeness, you’ve got to get it out of there, in multiple copies and formats. Put it out there online for safekeeping, maybe even for correction and improvement. The National Archives’ “Citizen Archivist” program outsources the job of tagging, transcribing and writing articles about scanned archival documents to thousands of enthusiastic volunteers. Eventually, all records will be online, well-indexed, well-documented and even preserved on personal computers around the world. By engaging its customers and allowing them to invest themselves in NARA, they are building up a base of support. These volunteers will fight for NARA when the time comes.

Counties across New York have cut funds to local historical societies and libraries. I’ve collected stories about public libraries closing in two dozen states. County and town clerk staffs are being slashed. Our local memory and even our ability to conduct some critical record-oriented transactions are among the first sandbags being tossed from the balloon basket.

Funding is tough all over. It’s going to get tougher, so failure to act and to invest now will close doors and drawers that need to stay open.

A few weeks ago, as volunteers for the clerk of Lincoln County, Idaho were working to digitize county records, it was discovered that some of the paper birth certificates, marriage licenses, court records, land deeds and permits dating to the 1930s had been destroyed by paper-eating insects. The records had been kept in what they thought was a safe, secure vault. In Hamilton County, Ohio (Cincinnati), five ancient record books were discovered in a dumpster after some horrible mix-up at the county recorder’s office.

One of our local school districts lost a century of records when a pipe burst and the boxes got wet. It mattered to the person who needed verification of employment in the 1970s for a pension problem. Some of the survey maps of Nassau County’s hundreds of housing developments walked out of the county clerk’s office years ago. It might matter if you need to research one of those properties.

Given the maintenance situation in some of our county buildings, you don’t have to be Hans Christian Anderson to imagine pipes bursting or some other sudden calamity that can take out a room full of old paper and film.

Many of the earliest public records of the towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay were lost due to vermin or neglect. Incomplete records have been sources of public disputes all the way to modern times.

So if any public agency doesn’t have a disaster recovery and a “continuity of operations” plan in place and in action, it needs them yesterday. The day before yesterday.