County Clerks and Public Records Requests: A Happier Ever-After

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

Can we all take a moment to celebrate the county clerks who, at this very moment, are working to keep our local governments running? Just a month ago, Winter Haven, FL blocked out an entire week to applaud municipal clerks. From May 6-12, county clerks were showered with gratitude for the value that their work brings to the Winter Haven community every day. And rightfully so!

Like the thread that holds a king-sized quilt together, one of the most important roles of a county clerk is to ensure that elected officials stay in open and clear communication with the public they serve, typically by means of public records request. In this way, clerks serve as the gatekeepers of a county’s checks and balances.

As the efficiency and success of counties hinges on the quality and capacity of its clerks, it is critically important that they stay well-equipped with the most updated tools for processing information requests and maintaining open communication with the public.

To FOIA This, You Need to Forget That!

155_paperworkmountain.jpgTraditionally, a clerk’s office space is shadowed by mountains of paper files and records that they typically sift through for days just to process one records request. Even then, they may have to redact sensitive information, which includes making a copy of the original document, inking out sensitive information, and making another copy to send to the requester. If the documents need to be snail-mailed, that will take even longer to be received and will acquire postage expenses. Not to mention that FOIA requests are bound by time restraints, and clerks need to not only manage and prioritize the timestamps on their requests, but adhere to them.

In a world where information is being requested at record speeds, clerks could never acquire the capacity or space necessary to maintain offices that are both efficient and manually-operated. On the flipside, many counties don’t have the budget to keep hiring more people, buying or renting more space, replenishing paper and ink, or footing more postal fees.

In a nutshell, paper is out. So, what’s moving in?

ECM, You’re Up!

Enterprise content management systems (ECM) are taking counties and clerks by storm, swooping up every document and file and condensing it all into one, comprehensive digital world. Also called electronic document management systems (EDMS), these electronic document and file repositories leverage automation and digital functionality to turnaround FOIA requests and their many other callings in optimal time.

Why are ECMs trending as the preferred tool for managing FOIA requests? We can think of a few reasons:

  • Tracking in No Time: As we previously mentioned, clerks work within several time boundaries on any given day. Able to integrate with electronic workflows, ECM/EDMS will recognize electronic requests, track their progress, and electronically deliver the results.
  • Point-and-Click Redactions: With an ECM like OnBase, redacting sensitive information is as easy as point and click. Best yet, this feature also allows you to create a separate, redacted copy for the recipient while the original copy is maintained on file.
  • Audits, Access, and Answers: Have you and another clerk, official, or staff member ever simultaneously needed the same document? Fighting over paper is not only time consuming, but it diminishes the integrity of the document – it could be on anyone’s desk at any time, and very vulnerable to wandering eyes. With an ECM/EDMS, a file or document can be viewed by multiple parties at the same time. And since you’re accessing documents electronically, you are free to work remotely from anyplace with secure internet access. Complete audits of a document’s history also hold users accountable, so you can see who has viewed or edited a document, how, and when.
  • eNotifications = No worries: Electronic notifications keep clerks on track with looming deadlines and what they should be prioritizing. Especially valuable to time-sensitive FOIA requests, the notifications reduce stress for the clerk by ensuring that everyone has what they need exactly when they need it.

As The Paperless Process People, we’re all about efficiency. If you’re ready to un-shadow your office in time for summer and learn more about the easy adoption of an ECM/EDMS, feel free to ping us.

What part of handling record requests is the most problematic for you? What’s the one thing you with your current document management system could do to help?

 

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