The California Public Records Act (CPRA) applies to all local or municipal governments by allowing the public the right to request and inspect any document or piece of information unless exempted by law. Some documents may be redacted for either privacy issues or legalities, but overall, most documents within the government are subject to the CPRA. Signed into law in 1968, this act creates a fundamental right for the American people to access information, while safeguarding the government’s accountability to the public. Though the act outlines policies and procedures for how and when information is to be released after it is requested, cities have adopted their own internal procedures and processes that have either enabled or disabled their ability to work efficiently and sustainably.
Through the partnership between National City and the SDSU Sage Project during the fall of 2014, an upper-level undergraduate Public Administration course taught by Professor Josh Chanin developed recommendations for improvement of National City’s internal procedures for the public records process. The class was divided into five groups and investigated the process by which other California cities (La Mesa, Carlsbad, Lemon Grove, San Diego and Chula Vista) archive, retain and share their documents and infor-mation to the public.
Upon completion of an investigation of each local city, these stu-dents had access to the “best practices” and technological resources that have enabled these cities to develop appropriate processes for their respective governments. This report is a consolidation of each group’s findings and recommendations using relevant examples to encourage a sustainable CPRA process while demonstrating the role a city plays in making information widely accessible to the public.
The current process for record retrieval in National City does not have any major flaws or need an immediate overhaul, but there are many ways that the city could improve the process. Some recommendations may be part of a larger conversation of funding and resources, but more simple recommendations, such as a more comprehensive training for city employees on the public records act and process, could improve administrative efficiency.
The report acknowledges that there is not a “one-fits-all” template for cities to utilize for their internal public records process as each city differs demographically, and may need a specialized process that works within the confines of city resources. For example, some cities had more resources available to buy supportive programs, like Laserfiche, a digital imaging database which centralizes a city’s public records. Chula Vista has a designated public employee whose title is “Records Manager” and is responsible solely for the response and tracking of public records requests. In other cities, the city clerk served as the coordinator for all public records requests, but they also had a deputy city clerk or assistant who helped facilitate communication between departments to obtain documents to fulfill the requests. This helped the city clerk delegate responsibilities and removed the pressure of being the only person working on public records requests. Further, the importance of a progressive employee culture understanding of the CPRA, the retrieval process, and its role within the government and to the people must be noted.
The sum of this report is the significance that technology and communication between departments plays throughout the process of public records retrieval. Both of these organizational tools are discussed at length later in this report. Cities like Carlsbad have a database online through their city website which allows citizens to navigate and search for public records. Not only is it more convenient for the requester, but it also frees up time and money that would have been spent for a city employee to retrieve the document. Further, communication within the city clerk’s office and between different departments is key to ensuring that the requests are fulfilled on time, correctly and efficiently across different departments.
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