Franklin, TN Processes Records Seamlessly During COVID-19
We had the pleasure of speaking with Angie Johnson, Deputy Assistant City Recorder at the City of Franklin, Tennessee. Franklin is committed to serving its community, one that has grown from a tiny, agricultural community in a strong blend of residential, commercial, and corporate citizens over the years.
Before implementing JustFOIA, they had a hard time keeping things consistent across departments and were relying on a spreadsheet to track their requests. “Previously, we used paper. People could mail in the form, drop off the form or scan it and email it in. People also would stop by departments and get the records.” Lamented Angie Johnson.
“Having the public going directly to the departments led to inconsistencies in how the requests were filled. Sometimes we had departments that were technically creating records to fulfill some requests. There was a lot of a grey area when it came to the policy of processing requests. We needed to make sure the policy was being followed correctly. Because of some of those loose habits, we weren’t even sure we were getting all the request forms after they were fulfilled. We just had to trust that what we were tracking on the spreadsheet was accurate. We didn’t know how long something had been sitting out there before it was processed. It was just a very uncertain situation for us.”
Implementing an online solution made all the difference in processing records requests, a task that isn’t necessarily a favorite. “Like most clerks, processing public records requests is not my favorite part of the job. It just interrupts everything you’re trying to get done, and it needs to be done right away. But there are tools out there that you can use that make it less painful. Implementing JustFOIA has made things so much easier, faster, and able to know exactly what’s going on. My part of the processing goes so much faster. I’m not dealing with confusion from the staff as much because it’s so much clearer.”
Many wonder how to continue day-to-day work without having to overhaul all of their processes when transitioning to work from home environment. “Our office staff is currently working remotely, which was not something we did before. The private sector works from home all the time, but it’s been almost taboo for those of us in the public sector to work remotely.” Said Johnson.
“Having JustFOIA, my process for processing public records requests has not changed at all. Everything was done through the software. The only thing that has changed is when we have old records that are still on paper, or very large and dense records that are not already held electronically. Because the city hall is closed, we cannot have inspections of records right now, so those are being delayed. But I only have one in that situation right now. Most of our records are digital. We have notices sent out to the requester through the platform, letting them know the status.”
Implementing a solution didn’t just streamline their process for public record requests but also allowed them to re-train their staff and correct many of the policy inconsistencies they were facing. “We wanted to make sure our people had the training that they needed. Along with the documents and how-to’s that come with JustFOIA, we also wanted to do in-house training. In that process of training, we were able to correct a lot of policy problems, things that weren’t happening correctly before.”
Not only were they able to correct policy errors by implementing JustFOIA, but they were also able to mitigate risk. “You always worry about lawsuits. Having inconsistent ways of responding and fulfillment times opened us up for the risk of a lawsuit that every city wants to avoid. Using an online solution has solved all of those problems. I’ve become the gatekeeper to it all. I see every request that comes in, and I’m able to send it precisely to all the departments. When it comes back, I’m able to review all the documents attached. And that everything attached has adequately fulfilled the request. I’m managing the number of workdays it’s taking to process. If something is sitting in say engineering’s queue for too long, it’s right in my face on the dashboard. I can see how long it’s been there, reach out to the department, and check-in. Nothing is going past our seven-day workday limit. I know exactly what is going on with every request at any time. If a requester has questions or issues with the request, it all gets recorded in the system, so everyone working on the request can see that conversation’s history. Staff can discuss within the system, asking questions, and answering them back and forth. So, in five years, if there a question about a request, we can see exactly what happened with that request.“
Her advice for those looking to implement a solution? “I would say that if you are able if you have the chance, it is so worth it. Do anything you can to convince your people that these programs are worth it. I can’t even imagine how we would be dealing with this if we didn’t have this solution, trying to get all these requests filled while no one is at the city hall. If there is any chance that you can implement this, do it.”