Peoria, Illinois by the Numbers
Peoria, Illinois, is the largest city on the Illinois River, with a population of 113,150. The nearby river port is busy as a trading and shipping center for its large agricultural area that produces corn, soybeans, and livestock. Citizens and visitors enjoy the area’s attractions, museums, and festivals, and let’s not forget the local’s favorite, Peoria Zoo.
The city clerk’s office sought efficiencies to help offset the growing demands of small businesses and citizens. Public records requests topped their priority list since it requires many internal staff and deadlines to remain compliant.
Poor Communication (and Other FOIA Spreadsheet Woes)
When the city received a FOIA request, someone would need to manually enter it onto the spreadsheet, assign it a number, and send out memos to the departments that held the records.
This process wasn’t just labor-intensive… It created a host of other problems as well. It was prone to manual errors due to poor organization, and it generated whole banker boxes full of paper files.
But the biggest problems that Stefanie and her team faced were poor communication and lack of transparency.
After sending the memo, the City Clerk’s office might not ever hear back. That could have been because the other department sent the records to the requester without telling the Clerk’s office.
But it could also have been because the memo had fallen through the cracks.
”We need something to keep everybody accountable to answering these FOIAs, to submitting the documents that were needed,” Stefanie said.
When Stefanie assumed office in 2019, her predecessor had already been investigating FOIA solutions. After seeing the spreadsheet FOIA process firsthand, she quickly got on board.
“We decided that JustFOIA would be the perfect fit for us,” she said. “It is an exciting journey. The entire JustFOIA team is top-notch. Starting with the first demo and through implementation, training, and even technical support – the JustFOIA solution and the team behind it are wonderful.”
With JustFOIA, Stefanie can see the status of every FOIA request at a glance. She can see that the requests are distributed to the appropriate department, and then watch as documents are added to the request.
And if a request is delayed? She can simply open the comment section and read the employees’ notes to find out why.
“I can track it all. It’s not like I have to run to other offices, run here, run there, or make sure that people are getting their documents submitted. It’s all in one location.”
Move the slider to compare the City of Peoria’s old, difficult-to-use FOIA spreadsheet with their clean new JustFOIA dashboard.
More Benefits from JustFOIA
Although lack of communication was the primary issue that Stefanie and her team set out to solve, they’ve seen other benefits as well. “We definitely see a significant return on this program in terms of time savings and process improvements,” she said.
Plus, it’s easier for her to loop in the legal team and stay complaint. “Our Legal team loves JustFOIA!” she said. “It makes it easy for them to review and redact properly. JustFOIA keeps us on track with FOIA deadlines and within the guidelines set forth by state statutes.”
Tell us about your request process before JustFOIA?
We received loads of requests, over 1,300 per month since live with JustFOIA! We used an extensive Excel spreadsheet and file folder system in OneDrive. When a request came in, we added the request to the Excel file with a request number and due date and created a memo for individual departments.
The department gathered all the information and responded individually, but we could not tell you what was happening. We had concerns about accurate redactions. It was total confusion.
“I have spoken with other cities, and they say, “Oh yeah, we use the Excel spreadsheet FOIA process too.”
It was cumbersome, especially if you are making memos, communicating with requesters, and ensuring all the information was compiled correctly.
Why did you decide to implement a records request system?
Accountability is important to us, especially for ensuring requesters receive their FOIA requests. Creating accountability seemed unachievable with our current process and the number of departments and FOIA officers involved. That is why we decided to get more organized and get everyone on the same page.
What are some of the benefits you have realized since switching to JustFOIA?
We needed a solution to streamline and track all the requests. When we previewed JustFOIA, it met that goal and more. It looked easy-to-use. From my perspective, it is fantastic that someone can submit a request, and I can immediately see and track it. I can easily oversee what our FOIA team is doing. It is all in one location and organized around the request.
I can see what the Fire Department, Public Works, and Community Development are doing to respond to any given request. When they are done preparing the responsive documents, we send them to Legal. Our Legal team loves JustFOIA. It makes it easy for them to review and redact properly. JustFOIA keeps us on track with FOIA deadlines and within the guidelines set forth by state statutes.
It is incredible to have everything streamlined and in one place – JustFOIA keeps us organized.
It is an exciting journey for us. The entire JustFOIA team is top-notch. Starting with the first demo and through implementation, training, and even technical support – the JustFOIA solution and the team behind it are wonderful.
We definitely see a significant return on this program in terms of time savings and process improvements.
To hear more from the team at Peoria, watch the full interview.