We had the pleasure of interviewing our clients, Austin Blake, City Manager, and Linda Hansell, City Clerk, with The City of Kissimmee, Florida. See what they said about their experience processing public records requests with JustFOIA.
Tell Us About Your City
We were founded in 1883, it’s 15 miles south of Orlando on the edge of Lake Tohopekaliga. Cattle are very big in our community and that’s why you’ll see there’s an Obama bull in our city’s seal.
Since the 2010 census, the population grew by 26% and 74,800 residents currently live in Kissimmee, Florida.
Our leadership is focused on strategic growth, investments in infrastructure, recreation, ecotourism, and conservation. Shingle Creek is the headwaters to the Everglades, and Lake Toho runs down to the Okeechobee River.
We have a historic downtown that still feels quaint. We have SunRail that runs in and we’re the 5th busiest station. People come down from all over to celebrate life’s occasions. It’s an awesome city – maybe we’re a little biased! Our 20-year goal is to be one of Florida’s finest cities, and we are well on our way to get there!
Which departments currently use JustFOIA?
We are focused on a single message to the public that by visiting our site, this landing page provides access to any document within the City by submitting a new request, searching the archive, or tracking an existing request.
The City has 11 departments, of which every department is using JustFOIA. During our quarterly Records Committee meeting, one staff from each department attends to share information like retention schedules that are changing, or topics related to public records. We want each department to have access to enter each public records requests when received in their offices. The public records laws now require us to post the custodian of records information. If they don’t make the request to the City Clerk, then the department is not responsible for responding to the request. If we don’t respond within five days, we must be given notice and then we can potentially be sued. We have a legal notice on our office wall that states, “If you do not make the request to the custodian of records, you cannot sue us.” Florida statute 119.01 is the general state policy regarding public records.
Examples of the types of requests that we process regularly are the following:
- Police Department: Police incident reports
- Development Services (building, planning & code enforcement): All issued CO’s, permits, building plans, requests for code violations, and zoning requirements
- Finance Department: Purchase orders issued, unclaimed funds, and bid documents
- Public Works: Solid waste and recycling agreements, debris removal, emergency services, and paving projects
- Fire Department: Hazardous materials spilled on a property when tanks are installed underground, fires at homes, and more
- IT: Requests for emails generally related to specific projects
Requests can be made anonymous as well. JustFOIA provides a request number and security key for this reason. Citizens can receive what they want without having anyone knowing what or why they requested information.
Another pain point was the amount of paper we had to process. Our goal is to go paperless. Now, we can import everything to JustFOIA. We no longer need to print response documents to mail, upload to Dropbox or an FTP site. The requester can access everything through the system with their pin number, provided at the time of the request.
Recently, We responded to a certificate of occupancy request for over 400 residents. Around the same time, another request was submitted for all meeting minutes from 2012 to 2019. We charged a fee for our staff’s time because there was a lot of work involved in gathering electronic records. Thankfully, our agenda and minutes are done electronically. We do print out the minutes for final approval, so we always have a hard copy as well. If it takes more than 30 minutes to process a response, we will charge for a PRR request.
We use Laserfiche as our content services platform to manage electronic records. We receive recurring requests for building permits that were issued in a specific month. Now, the team is trained on how to use JustFOIA. A task gets assigned to them and we can attach the document directly to the response document. When we respond to the citizen, it’s all electronic.
What redaction tool do you use?
We will only use Laserfiche redaction. One time, our police department challenged the security of a redacted document. We provided a redacted record from Laserfiche and they sent it off to an acquaintance at the FBI. He was not able to see the information. From that point on, our staff was officially converted as believers in redaction. That’s powerful.
What features improved your work processes?
The ability to set up different templates for responses is great. If we find ourselves sending the same emails repeatedly, we set up another template. I can cut and paste the information to add to a template. We even created a templated email to notify requesters that records are not located in their office and provide instructions on how to submit a request with an outside agency. We pride ourselves on our level of customer service and believe in making it easy for those that we serve.
See How the City of Kissimme Processes Public Records Request:
See How The City of Kissimmee Processes Reports:
What is the greatest benefit you received as a result of implementing JustFOIA?
“The greatest benefit has increased situational awareness of everything going on. Sometimes, there are multiple team members working on a request. If it was done in individual email accounts, we couldn’t see the progress. JustFOIA allows a 30,000-foot view of progress with all requests within the system. We can determine why things are bottlenecking to move things forward. In Development Services, there are so many divisions and responsibilities – imagine if five people were assigned to one request. Each division is now a department within the system, so the requests are being routed efficiently. Our process will continue to evolve, and JustFOIA gives us the opportunity to evolve!” – Austin Blake
What lessons have you learned, and best practices can you share that will help others in the future when adopting JustFOIA as their PRR solution?
“When implementing new technology, it is important to take a step back to evaluate your entire business process. Just because it’s the way you’ve been doing business a certain way does not mean that it’s the way you should move forward. There are better ways of doing business. When you get access to new software, don’t make it look and work like your old one. Think about the new features and how you can apply them.” – Awesome Austin
Training for everyone involved is essential.
What is the greatest benefit you received as a result of implementing JustFOIA?
Managing lien searches. We are no longer forced to manage spreadsheets and to process requests with paper. The tracking has improved immensely. Now, we can search to see what’s been provided in the past so we prevent duplication of our efforts. We can see what was provided, rather than looking at the excel spreadsheet and then searching to find that information in Laserfiche. Before we didn’t have to keep copies of the information we sent out – now, I can see attachments for every completed request.
What is the five-year plan for improvements that you expect JustFOIA will make for your organization and citizens?
We look forward to the Active Directory integration for Office 365.
When sharing with others about your JustFOIA solution, what would you say?
“Before JustFOIA, we were logging things in an excel spreadsheet and we couldn’t have more than one person using it at once. Now, we have the flexibility to assign the request to someone and keep track of the status at any point to see the progress.” – Linda Hansell