City, county, and state governments like yours produce public records every day – including those on paper, email, social media, text messages, video, and more. It’s tricky to manage all those records, and even trickier to share them with the public when you don’t have the right tools.
What Is A Public Record Exactly?
Everything state and local governments do produce public records. Public records are documents or pieces of information that are not considered confidential and pertain to the conduct of governments.
The federal FOIA and state public records laws start with a basic assumption that the citizens should have transparency into how the government conducts itself. Each state, then, has its own nuances to that public records law and what’s available as a “public record request”. Generally, “public records” include almost everything that involves government workers or requires government dollars. And in most states, there are laws to ensure requesters can get access to the records they need in a timely manner – usually between 5 and 30 days. Failure to comply can result in fines and litigation for the agency holding the records.
Examples of Public Records
- After-action reports
- Birth & death records
- Commissioned artwork
- Construction Plans
- Court Records
- FBI files
- Grant applications
- Inspection reports
- Lesson plans
- Marriage licenses
- Meeting minutes
- Police reports
- Statistical data
- Surveillance footage
- Voting records
DID YOU KNOW? What is Redaction? The federal Privacy Act gives a person the right – enforceable in court – of access to agency records in which that person is a subject, except when those records (or portions thereof) are protected from disclosure by 9 specific exemptions which include classified military records and active law enforcement investigation files.
Many states and organizations, then go further to protect the public interest or prevent the invasion of privacy by preventing disclosure of Personally Identifying Information (PII) like social security numbers, phone numbers, and credit card numbers; intellectual property; juvenile records; medical records; and more when releasing public records.
The process of “redacting” exempt material from public records can be extremely tedious when utilizing manual methods like blacking out text with a sharpie marker. More important, manual methods are reversible and not secure. Modern software tools are available to help agencies ensure the confidentiality of exempt material. Some software tools will also simplify the redaction process by automatically generating a list of exemption codes used and documenting how many times they were used and where.
Top 300 U.S. Cities
Top U.S. Counties
Public Records Best Practices
Tips and Tricks to Keep You Organized, Secure, and Compliant
Policies and Procedures Exist
Your organization should have written policies and procedures for managing, retaining, and releasing public records
Your organization should have adequate software, hardware, and physical storage for managing, retaining, and releasing public records
Someone in your organization should have overall responsibility for managing, retaining, and releasing public records
Records Are Organized
Your organization should keep public records organized to help with access, security, and destruction/transfer
The staff at your organization should know how to manage, retain, and release your agency’s public records
Your organization should have a disaster plan and backups of public records (and the requests for these) to resume critical operations in the event of a disaster
Records Kept Required Time Period
Your organization should keep public records for the minimum retention period listed in current approved records retention schedules
Retention Requirements Understood
Your organization should know how long each type of public record needs to be retained and how to properly destroy records that are past these retention periods
Looking for a Better Way to Manage Your Public Records Requests?
Specialized FOIA Software is the BEST solution. Until you get there, download this free, quick-fix spreadsheet.Download Quick-Fix Sheet
”GovQA does the calculations for us, it’s so much easier since we don’t have to think about it. We look smarter and we’re much more efficient. Working in a job that is full of chaos, it’s good to have GovQA to help keep me sane.Jeri Carter LawsonManager, City of Dallas, TX
Managing Public Records the RIGHT Way
Why Do You Need A Public Records Management System?
The straightest path to following best practices listed above is to leverage technology to reduce your risk of errors and missed deadlines, prepare you for any spikes in request volume, and allow you to complete your work remotely when necessary.
One of the first types of technology most agencies purchase is some sort of records management database that houses all the records in a digitized form. Very few agencies have every record in digital form, but it’s good practice to default to digital or scan as much as possible up front (implementing plans to scan older records as feasible). These tools help you HOLD YOUR RECORDS in an organized, searchable form.
Once you’ve got the technology to hold the records, the next step (or simultaneous step) is to purchase specialized software to SHARE YOUR RECORDS to process requests for public records. This is where the magic happens – this is the best way for agencies to boost relations with the public by improving access and insight into the inner workings of their government; meeting the call for greater transparency – while maintaining the necessary confidentiality of protected data.
The GovQA Exchange Platform is centralized, secure, enterprise workflow software to help governments process ALL information in response to ANY urgent request.
GovQA doesn’t replace your existing systems, we sit in the middle to formalize the collection and control of information related to specific process triggers so you can more easily meet the request response time schedules and mitigate your risk of litigation.
- Save time, meet deadlines, & reduce stress
- Safeguard vital data by making it more centralized and standardized
- Increase productivity and improve submission tracking
- Improve communication throughout your organization
- Reduce costs
- Create institutional accountability
- Ensure regulatory compliance & minimize litigation risks
How does your agency stay compliant?
As changing laws continue to affect agencies in all states, GovQA keeps an eye on this legislation and continuously updates our forward-thinking exchange solution with proactive enhancements to keep you in compliance.
We have resources.
GovQA is consistently creating and gathering helpful resources to help you improve your records request process, whether you call it FOIA, FOIL, CPRA, CORA, OPRA, Public Records, Sunshine Law, Open Records, UIPA, GRAMA, RPI, or RTK. Bookmark our Public Records Resources page to review shared stories, live roundtables, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant and secure.
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