Freedom of information – for clerks
City and county clerks have a long list of responsibilities, from preparing for council meetings to managing meeting minutes to safeguarding the public records of their cities or counties. The council vote, the basis for their decisions and the government actions that follow, are of intense interest to constituents and the media. Calls for more open government and transparent decisions have made longtime clerk responsibilities even more high profile.
Clerks have been handling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and public records requests for decades. But now, the pressure is greater. And while polls suggest that local government is far more trusted than the federal government, journalists and constituents want to know why decisions were made and, often, how money is spent.
The meticulously managed – but paper-based – clerk’s office can’t weather the storm of public distrust or local controversy without significantly better tools than file folders, cabinets and offsite storage. Beyond the storage and cost burdens, how do you ensure that you preserve every document that is a public record or a potential FOIA request target?
One solution to meet every challenge
The reality is that, while public records are often designated in statute and policy, FOIA requests can cover just about any type of information. Will you be ready?
Safeguarding documents within departments as they are created or collected makes it easier to ensure that you can fulfill requests. The key is to move to paperless records, meetings and processes.
Organizations that use enterprise content management (ECM) often start small with a solution to meet challenges within their legislative process, going paperless to avoid the significant workload that comes from paper packets and minutes. By choosing ECM rather than a standard agenda solution, they can build on their investment to continue to drive transparency efforts in other processes and departments – with just a single solution to support. A limited agenda solution provides neither the longevity nor the repository that ECM can offer to preserve records and documents for the time periods relevant to government actions.
Here are some of the key benefits to having a single ECM solution serving your legislative and department work:
Meeting your legal responsibilities
ECM can scale across the organization so that, over time, you collect all your critical content in a single, secure place. Not only does this eliminate filing, printing and copying costs, it makes it easy to ensure that you are preserving everything from agenda packets and minutes to video, files, photos and more.
Fulfilling requests efficiently
Digital files and content can be found quickly in an ECM solution. Once a request is received, you can use a range of search tools, including full-text search, and search by type of document, date and any number of keywords. No more rifling in multiple file cabinets or buildings and no worrying about documents being lost or destroyed accidentally.
Timing and tracking requests
FOIA requests need to be fulfilled quickly, sometimes within a legal deadline. ECM can help by accepting these requests electronically and then automating notification and completion tracking. This helps you avoid the extra work involved in manual tracking systems while you ensure that you’ll meet deadlines by using workflow notifications and time requests.
Clerks and their work are an important part of our local democratic institutions. They collect and preserve the documents that explain government decisions. In an environment of increased scrutiny and transparency demands, smart clerks everywhere are exploring ways to improve public records and FOIA request tools. And ECM, with its flexibility to span across government, is the foundation of the new clerk’s office and renewed trust in government.