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Published on Friday, September 30, 2016

Public Records update

As we reported previously, the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) released their Public Records Study. AWC’s Open Data Portal recently developed new data visualizations to illustrate the SAO’s data on a city-by-city basis. Check it out here. This is great information to use when talking about how your city works to uphold the open government tenants of the Public Records Act (PRA). Some think that because cities have been working on legislation to update the PRA, then cities must be opposed to transparency. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Cities invest millions of dollars in managing and disclosing records because we believe in transparency and want our residents to have access to their local governments.

Our job it to collectively do more to tell that side of the story. The SAO public records study is a great start to detailing how much effort government puts into public records transparency; however, 39 percent of those who responded reported that they didn’t track data about public records requests or costs. It is important for cities to be able to collect and share data and stories about our commitment to managing and disclosing public records. We encourage you to think about how your city can talk about your public records efforts with your residents as well as your legislators.

Some interesting data points from the SAO study:

  • Agencies reported fulfilling 17 percent of requests the same day, and 47 percent within 5 days.
  • Agencies reported that the number of requests grew by 36 percent in the past five years and 81 percent of respondents said requests had grown more complex.
  • Only about 25 percent of requests are for paper copies, 70 percent were for some kind of electronic copy.
  • Of those requestors who could be identified, only 3 percent were from the media.
  • Only 84 percent of respondents tracked the number of requests they received, and only 39 percent tracked the costs – we need to do a better job of tracking the number, type and cost of requests as well as tracking the overall cost of records management.

The SAO also looked at leading practices and developed the following recommendations. For more details about each of these recommendations, read the full report.

Leading practices to aid public records management and disclosure:

  • Communicate with requesters thoughtfully and as needed
  • Manage request fulfillment to maximize benefits to requesters and minimize disruptions to critical services
  • Disclose information before it is asked for
  • Develop a coordinated, agency-wide strategy and institutional culture around records management
  • Collect and retain only necessary records
  • Organize records for easy search and retrieval
  • Adopt strategies and organization-wide policies to accommodate complexity of public records laws
  • Reduce the potential for litigation and mitigate its impact
  • As stewards of open government, it is our responsibility to talk about how much effort cities put into ensuring access to public records.

Possible public records related legislation

As we have previously reported, AWC is part of a broad stakeholder group convened by Rep. McBride (D-Kirkland) and Rep. Nealey (R-Dayton) to discuss public records challenges and look for solutions. The work group met last in August and will meet again in October to begin looking at preliminary legislative proposals. We are very appreciative of Reps. McBride and Nealey as well as the many other legislators who have participated in this process including Reps. Klippert, Kuderer, Manweller, Pollet, Senn and Springer.

We look forward to sharing more about the efforts of this work group after the next meeting.

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