Breckenridge, Colorado by the Numbers
Breckenridge, Colorado, is a ski town at the base of the Rocky Mountains known for its small-town charm and community atmosphere.
But visitors may not realize how much that sense of community permeates the local government, as well.
“We’re very focused on increasing communication with citizens and on being transparent,” said Records and Municipal Court Coordinator Maddy Norgard. “The government here is responsive to people on a very individual level.”
Another town employee describes that individual connection between citizens and government as “the heart and soul of records requests.”
“It’s ultimately at the core of what we’re doing in municipal government,” Maddy explained, “that we’re here to support the citizens and residents who are looking into the government.”
Until a couple of years ago, the Town of Breckenridge tracked their public records requests primarily through emails and calendar notifications—a time consuming manual process.
As their volume of requests began to grow, the process grew less and less sustainable, particularly since the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) gives only a 3-day window for turnaround in most cases.
So Maddy helped to implement a project management software that helped to automate a few of the tasks, such as sending email reminders.
But occasionally these emails were lost or sent to spam. And even at its best, the process was thoroughly decentralized.
“A lot of things were managed through emails back and forth between our office and the clerk’s office and other offices across town. There was no great place to centralize and keep track of it,” Maddy said.
“If communications are getting lost, it can make people [in the community] feel like they’re not being seen or they’re not being listened to. And oftentimes this might be the only interaction that people have with our municipal government. So if that process isn’t going well, that can be a really poor reflection of our community. It can lead to distrust. And that is not the goal at all.”
The Tipping Point
The Town of Breckenridge muddled through their public records requests this way for about a year. But it became apparent that the program’s automation and communication features just weren’t cutting it.
Maddy had only been working in Breckenridge for a couple of years at that point, after previously working in a larger city in the Midwest.
“I had to be very careful as I approached those conversations. When you talk about a new process and especially if it involves a new technology, you get this immediate response from people who have been there for a while and think, ‘This is working well.’”
But the tipping point was when the town received several large records requests back-to-back in a short period of time on hot-button issues including affordable housing.
With records requests so much in the public eye, they didn’t have a great way to track and document each piece of the puzzle.
“That was what I was able to kind of push on with the people higher up in the organization to be able to say we needed to prioritize getting a records request system,” Maddy recalls.
The Town of Breckenridge spoke to several different companies in their search for a records request software. But from the beginning, they found that the JustFOIA team was the most helpful and communicative.
“There was a difference between the communications we were getting from JustFOIA and other companies. We thought about how responsive they would be to our needs and how communicative and helpful they would be throughout the process,” Maddy said.
Not only that, but they found that JustFOIA had the features they needed while remaining cost-effective.
“That made it an easier sell to some of the other people in the organization,” Maddy said. “It was something we could fit into our budget.”
And they loved the Public Portal.
“It looks really nice, like a place that is really accessible for requesters. They have the ability to go back and look at requests again in the future and have those available to the public to sort through.”
JustFOIA was the clear choice.
Automation Doesn’t Replace Humanity
But when Breckenridge implemented JustFOIA, they didn’t have 100% buy-in right away.
One staff member worried about losing the personal connection that the town had worked so hard to build with residents.
“She heard the word ‘automation’ and thought, ‘We’re taking the human element out of this process,’” Maddy said.
Maddy needed to establish trust with her colleague to show that they both valued the transparency and sense of community that public records requests can foster.
“I explained it to her as recentering the human element so we can see all of those human pieces. It’s getting a little bit of assistance to keep communication in one place… It’s about being able to keep track of everything so that you can have that better communication with people and bring back that heart and soul of the records request process.”
All communication between requesters and staff and between various staff members is all centralized within JustFOIA, cutting back on the need for long meetings or phone calls to keep everyone on the same page. This ensures that no communication from requesters falls through the cracks and that team members can respond to requests in a timely manner.
“Ultimately, she’s been one of the biggest advocates for the system,” Maddy said of her once-skeptical colleague.
Up to 75% Time Savings
Maddy estimates that she used to spend about an hour on a straightforward request such as a business license—but with JustFOIA, that time has been cut to 10-15 minutes.
Even complex requests involving redactions or the dreaded “any and all” email requests are far more efficient with JustFOIA. For instance, CORA requires that personal email addresses be redacted, but government-issued ones aren’t. JustFOIA’s auto-redaction tool makes this simple with the use of wildcards.
“Right after we launched JustFOIA, we got a couple of very large, very contentious requests with hundreds of thousands of documents related to short-term rentals,” Maddy said. “I think if we had not had the system, it would have been infinitely more painful and difficult to go through all of those processes.”
That frees up more time for the community-enhancing tasks that the Town of Breckenridge values so deeply.