We had the pleasure of interviewing our client, Terri Graham, City Clerk for the City of Smyrna, Georgia. Smyrna was the first client in the state of Georgia to adapt JustFOIA in 2014. See what she had to say.
Ultimately, why did you choose to use JustFOIA?
When you implemented JustFOIA, what issues and pain points were you looking to solve?
Tracking. We needed a way to stay on top of the progress for each request. The amount of time we spent on open records requests was overwhelming, and our data was stored in an excel file to track details – that set us up for failure. JustFOIA prevents duplicate requests too. If multiple people are looking for the same information, JustFOIA makes that more accessible because the data was processed already.
What was the process of distributing/sharing the information before JustFOIA?
It was all done via emails, hard copies, sometimes available on our website, and we stored information in Excel. Now, we encourage people to go through our website; this way, everything is tracked from the very beginning. Otherwise, we will enter it into the system for the requestor if they aren’t able to. See how Smyrna has it set up on their website:
Which departments currently use JustFOIA?
- Police Department
- Clerk of Court/Court Services
- Community Development Department
- Water Department
- Public Works
- Community Relations
- Property Tax Division
- Fire Department
How is each department processing public records requests within JustFOIA?
- The Police Department receives common requests for accidents, citations, jail bookings, and other written reports. See how they process requests:
- The Clerk of Court/Court Services receives requests for mostly dispositions, citation information, and discovery (handled by the solicitor). See how they process requests:
- The Community Development gives information on permits, variances, zoning, planning, and code enforcement.
- The Water Department processes water bills, and water usage reports.
- The Finance Department processes requests for purchase orders, uncleared checks, and spending reports on projects.
- The Engineering Department receives requests for hydrology, stormwater, and sewage reports.
- Public Works processes sanitation, property right of way issues, and areas that need maintenance reports (they use eGov so people can request jobs to clean up public spaces).
- Community Relations handles media requests.
- Property Tax Division reports on who is delinquent.
- The Fire Department deals with fire violation codes, CO’s (certificate of occupancy), and EMS reports also.
- We provide case discoveries for lawyers as well, sometimes multiple ones for the same case.
What is the most positive change you have seen since implementation?
One of the things that I love about JustFOIA is that it will track all communications and files that were used while processing public records. People will say that they didn’t receive emails sometimes, and we have proof that it was. Even better, the team effort helps keep everyone on the same page about what’s happened, what needs to happen, and what needs to be done.
Are you using integrations with JustFOIA?
We currently use Adobe or Laserfiche for redactions. Using a pen doesn’t cover up the information securely. In Laserfiche, you can redact and make it viewable only to you, but it won’t be visible for others.
Is there additional information you would like to provide in the way you utilize JustFOIA or how it has improved your work processes?
We also use JustFOIA to process lien requests. The lien request process allows companies to request information on current property tax liens generally for potential buyers.
By using JustFOIA, it saves money in attorney fees. Before JustFOIA, the time to process requests took about an hour, and now it is down to approximately 15 minutes!
How many open records requests do you receive per year?
Police Department receives at least 1,200, but that doesn’t include multi-jurisdictional requests. The Court and Clerk’s offices receive 2,400 per year, and that does not include communications with the DA’s office, county, and other cities.
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?
Forms – when I started, we had to pay for each one. We have four forms now, and Nyla created them for us in the beginning. Now, we can dive in to make our own. Lesson learned: don’t make too many people admins. There should be separation for admins, power users, and basic users.
What is the most significant benefit you received as a result of implementing JustFOIA?
When we have retreats, our city attorney always says we’re doing the best at open records! It always makes me feel good because what we do is a huge thing. “We do good with open records,” says Scott Cochran, Smyrna City Attorney.
“The greatest benefit is that it makes us more efficient with our open records. If it’s in the system, we don’t lose it. I love JustFOIA; it’s made my job so much easier when it comes to open records!”
How will you handle your back-file scanning and ADA compliance laws for public records documents moving forward?
We’re currently trying to work through that. The city has a lot of back scanning that needs to be done, so we’re in the process. Community development sends its large format projects to MCCi’s Scanning Division. Looking back is the history of our city, and that is important; so is moving forward by elected officials.
What is the five-year plan for improvements JustFOIA will make for your organization and citizens?
We’re going to add the payment and fees module soon. The law requires us to provide documents before payment unless it costs more than $500. Social media archiving is a possibility in the future as well.
Please share with us what your experience was like working with our team:
Because of the laws that Georgia has requiring a three-day turnaround, getting the system set up to work the way we needed it to with our deadline was challenging. It took about a year to refine our system. Smyrna was the first city in GA to purchase JustFOIA in 2014.
Once we worked through the beginning of the development for JustFOIA, things work smoothly. We were able to track and email correspondence within JustFOIA. With every upgrade, the system keeps improving. I get happier every time there are updates made to the system! The milestones we accomplished from where we started to where we stand today is fantastic. The progression is outstanding. Smyrna has used the system for five years now!
When sharing with others about your JustFOIA solution, what would you say?
Recently, I shared with another city clerk to do herself a favor and call MCCi. She asked why, and I continued to tell her ‘because you are using spreadsheets and JustFOIA will make your life, and your citizens’ lives easier.’ The hardest part of the decision was overcoming the fear of where to start. We decided this fear was not going to hold us back. Of course, we found holes in our processes and little things along the way, but we worked through it – and now we love our new process.
The JustFOIA client focus group connected us with peers in other states with different laws. We learned best practices in a positive peer-to-peer environment. JustFOIA is user-friendly, and that’s what I tell everybody that’s searching for a solution. It’s so easy –look at the dashboard; it tells you what to do!
“We do everything that we do without fear or favor. That means you do it, regardless, because it’s the best thing for your city.” ~ Terri Graham, City Clerk for the City of Smyrna, Georgia
Interested in learning more about how JustFOIA can streamline your business processes? Contact us today!