County approves FOIA system streaming software

ByLance T. Lee

Apr 21, 2022

EDWARDSVILLE — Madison County is buying software that officials hope will streamline Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and create more transparency.

But several council members seemed more concerned with identifying who was filing freedom of information requests, specifically naming one person who had filed numerous requests over the past few years.

“We’ve been looking at this for years and how we can better serve the public,” board chairman Kurt Prenzler said in a written statement.

“This technology will reinforce the county’s commitment to open, transparent, and cost-effective delivery to respond to FOIA requests in accordance with Illinois law.”

On Wednesday, the board approved a resolution for a 3-year contract with GovQA/Granicus for software to process and manage FOIA requests and citizen and media information.

The cost is $45,000.

The Freedom of Information Act is the state law covering government records, including electronic filings, and how the public can access and obtain that information.

Currently, the county council and individual elected offices have FOIA officers tasked with responding to requests, and each department has someone responsible for data recovery.

The state’s attorney’s office, which has its own FOIA officer, also reviews the requests.

State’s Attorney Tom Haine said that as the volume of taping applications increased and their complexity increased, the county chose something that would work best for everyone.

“Transparency is fundamental to good responsible government,” Haine said.

“I am happy to see the county taking this action. Better technology will streamline our FOIA process – which often has legal and practical considerations. And a smoother process will better serve the interests of citizens while saving public resources in the long run.

GovQA’s Public Records Request Management Software is a cloud-based system capable of managing documents and other information while improving transparency.

The software will allow residents to track their FOIA requests online and it will reduce the amount of paperwork and free up time for employees. Other Illinois counties and municipalities use the software.

Prenzler told anyone who wants to see an example that the city of Belleville uses the software.

“Madison County understands and supports the public’s right to access public records,” Prenzler said. “Our goal is to deliver service in a seamless and timely manner and we believe this software helps us achieve that.”

Some of the benefits of the system discussed at the committee or board meeting include the ability to create a database of what has been requested, which could streamline the process of retrieving documents requested by multiple individuals or groups, or requests for the same document. made at different times; as well as allowing for better communication that would help find records that may have been transferred from one department to another over the years.

During discussion of the matter, several board members noted that some people had filed multiple FOIA requests covering large amounts of records.

Board members Michael Walters, R-Godfrey, and Eric Foster, R-Granite City, spoke about the time and cost of processing applications, especially for those filing multiple or large applications, sometimes referred to as “frivolous.” , “nuisance” or “vexatious” declarants. The two said they wanted to know who the top FOIA requesters in the county were.

One name, Robert Dorman, was mentioned.

Dorman, a former county IT manager fired by the board in April 2020 over allegations he improperly accessed county data, including emails and other private documents for political purposes, said multiple and significant document requests in connection with his legal, political and other battles with the county.

He expressed his dislike of the idea in an email he said was sent to the Finance Committee.

“I especially hated anything that created a barrier by forcing the public to create an account or fill out a form because the spirit of FOIA is openness and opportunity,” he said.

“No amount of software is going to fix the terrible transparency that Madison County has developed for breaking the law,” he added, saying a better way to “fix the problem” is to create a sub- committee responsible for reviewing FOIA logs for training and personnel issues or ethical considerations.

Source link