O’Fallon implemented a Laserfiche WebLink public portal to provide citizens with around-the-clock access to public information.

“Our municipal website is like having City Hall open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” says Deputy Clerk Maryanne Fair. “My office is only open from 8:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M., but even after hours, people can still find what they need.”

The city customized Laserfiche with a file tree structure broken down into nine main entries covering different departments in City Hall. Each of those was then broken down again into folders for each department. According to IT Director John Presley, this file structure makes information easier to find for casual searchers, as curious residents searching city documents account for a lot of the traffic on the site.

City Clerk Phil Goodwin says, “Basic research questions have gone down by as much as two-thirds because people are already finding the info they need on their own.”

Freedom from FOIA Requests

Freedom of Information Act requests used to be an unpleasant subject around the offices of O’Fallon City Hall. FOIA requests, as they are better known, can be vexing for the city clerks who must respond to them. When submitted by laypersons in the community, they can be poorly worded and difficult to understand and respond to. When professionals file FOIA requests, they can be tedious and complex tasks requiring dozens—even hundreds—of hours to fulfill.

So, when a couple of attorneys filed a FOIA request for documents related to an O’Fallon construction project last year, the request looked like it would take two staffers a month each to fulfill. Then one of those staffers suggested sending the attorneys to the city’s Laserfiche WebLink public portal instead.

That was the last staff heard of that FOIA request.

“We sent them an email about Laserfiche WebLink and they did the rest,” Presley says. “They found everything they needed right there. It turned out to be a tremendous time saver for us—and for them.”

Presley points out the cost-effectiveness of having documents available through the Laserfiche WebLink public portal. “That FOIA request would have taken two staffers a full month to fill without Laserfiche WebLink,” he says. “With Laserfiche WebLink, the attorneys could search our documents themselves, which saved us thousands of dollars for just that one request.”

FOIA requests have dropped by at least 50 percent since the Laserfiche WebLink portal has been available, and a lot of the traffic comes from contractors doing business with the city, Presley says. They can submit RFPs much more quickly using Laserfiche WebLink because they can call up old contracts and cut and paste much of the perquisite text.

An Eye to the Future

The public is clearly responding to the increased access to government records. City Hall staffers are getting emails from potential FOIA filers saying they already found what they needed on Laserfiche WebLink, Presley says.

It’s not just O’Fallon residents and businesses benefitting.

“With the volume of usage we’re seeing, Laserfiche WebLink has paid for itself tenfold in staff time savings,” he says. “Now staff can concentrate on their primary role of running the city instead of running around and pulling documents for FOIA requests. FOIA used to be a real unpleasant word around City Hall. Now the subject doesn’t even come up.”

The site’s popularity has prompted O’Fallon to start planning to integrate the city’s GIS application with Laserfiche, opening public access to a vast store of government maps.

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