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Save these county records Slow emergence of health effects makes long-term preservation necessary

Erie County Executive Chris Collins was elected on a promise to bring the highest standards of customer service to county government. But he may sometimes have to be reminded of who his customers are.

Those customers include families whose children may suffer from lead poisoning -- poisoning caused by lead paint, poisoning for which landlords can and should face lawsuits and, sometimes, pay damages.

Unfortunately, the plan by Collins' chief attorney to destroy county inspection records that would be crucial to such lawsuits smacks harshly of bureaucratic self-interest.

By seeking to destroy inspection records that are more than seven years old, County Attorney Cheryl A. Green is putting the interests of sick children who need help behind those of government bureaucrats who don't want to bother with finding space for more boxes of paper.

Surely, she's not out to make it harder for such suits to be filed, in the process protecting landlords who may well owe a penalty for their lack of standards.

Because it takes years for the effects of lead poisoning -- hyperactivity, aggression, learning disabilities -- to manifest themselves, such documentation needs to be maintained much longer than the state minimum of seven years.

Not only are the documents Green seeks to destroy of material importance to people with serious lawsuits, they may also be a way for the county itself to make back some of the money it has spent on Medicaid bills for those very children. Just one law firm that pursues such cases has already paid the county $400,000 from such suits.

Green's argument that if she preserved those records she would be forced to preserve many others just doesn't wash. Certainly, Collins' beloved Six Sigma quality control program would have such decisions made on the merits, not habit.

The County Legislature's recent action declaring the records "historic documents" may be a bit of a reach. But it serves the purpose, and Collins should go along.

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