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How to Make Public Records More Accessible to Residents

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Public Records

Some public members may be unable to access public records because they are cumbersome, difficult to find, or expensive. Some counties and municipalities have developed portals that make records available electronically, making these records more accessible and fiacilitating civic engagement.

1. Create a Public Portal

To make public records more accessible, some local governments have set up portals where public members can access their documents digitally. For this portal to work effectively, it must be easy for residents to access and move from one document type.

For the portal to be effective, it should also have searchable keywords that allow members of the public to pinpoint a particular record.

2. Create a Public Website

Creating a website can help citizens in their efforts to gain public records by making them easy to find and access. Once jurisdictions have created an online presence, they should ensure that public members know about it. They can do this by advertising on social networking sites, publishing press releases, and placing posters around town.

The website should also contain all relevant contact information such as names and email addresses for specific staff members, so citizens can get a hold of someone if they need assistance with their request for documents or clarification of an issue.

3. Put a Call-to-Action on Public Reports

Some public officials prefer not to make meaningful changes to their records because they fear that citizens will be angry with them. For citizens to easily access public records, jurisdictions should add language to the reports they must produce to remain in compliance with the state’s sunshine law.

This language should include a call-to-action for citizens so they can request copies and specify where and by which staff members can access the records .

4. Simplify the Request Process

For citizens to access their public records, the request process must be as simple as possible. Some jurisdictions have asked for members of the public’s information such as name and address only or have asked for requesters to complete a simple form.

In addition, some jurisdictions ask requesters to submit copies of their driver’s license or utility bills stating what records they are requesting. These actions make it easier for citizens to access public records and reduce the amount of paper necessary for them to do so.

5. Be Transparent with Requests

Many cities and counties prefer not to release certain records because they believe these documents may embarrass them or contain private information. To eliminate the fear that public records custodians may have about releasing public records, these officials should be as transparent with requesters as possible.

It is best if government officials do not ask requesters for certain types of information before releasing a public record. This practice will help ensure that citizens gain access to all of their public records and reduce the damage that the information contained in these records can cause when it is leaked or published.

6. Change Office Hours

For citizens to access public records, local governments must provide offices with more flexible hours. For example, some counties and cities provide offices with extended hours so members can access records on weekends or holidays.

It is also important that public records custodians do not require requesters to come into offices during regular office hours for them to access public records under the state’s sunshine law.

7. Single Access Point

There must be one point of access for all public records so members of the public can easily find them in one place. Some local governments have set up a searchable online database that contains links to specific records. In addition, some jurisdictions have developed portals that allow residents to access all of their records through one website.

Many local jurisdictions have taken steps to make it easier for citizens to access their public records. By working together, cities and counties can encourage civic engagement through the sharing of useful information that helps people make informed decisions about their local community.

Heather Breese
Heather Breese is a qualified writer who fell in love with creativity and became a specialist creator and writer, focused on readers and market need.

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