How the City of Ithaca Automated Information Requests

5 min read
  • Government
  • Legal & Compliance
  • Process Automation

Laserfiche Solution Contributed by: Julie Holcomb, City Clerk and Alan Karasin, Senior Network Administrator, City of Ithaca, NY

Laserfiche Solution Provider: ICC Community Development Solutions

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an important piece of legislation that provides citizens the right to access information from the government. While critical and cherished, the process of disseminating requested information can be a headache for government organizations and a less-than-ideal experience for the information requestor.

Located in central New York, The City of Ithaca is home to over 100,000 residents in the greater metropolitan area, as well as Cornell University, an Ivy League school of over 20,000 students. With such a large population, the City struggled to process over 600 information requests per year in compliance with the state-mandated Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

“The City of Ithaca has a very engaged constituency that holds its government to a high standard of transparency. Over the past decade we have increased the availability of public records via our website; however, there is a difference between making records accessible and making information accessible,” says Julie Holcomb, City Clerk.

In order to improve request response, the City turned to Laserfiche—slashing the average FOIL request processing time by 35%.

Thanks to Laserfiche, the public has around-the-clock access to the FOIL request form through the City’s website, eliminating the need to travel to City Hall. In addition, the City uses archived data to track frequent document requests to make this information available on-demand to the public via its Laserfiche WebLink portal.

“Laserfiche allows us to take the burden and responsibility for compliance off individual employees, and moves it to a centralized and defined system. Not only can we ensure documents are stored as long as they are required, they are now also safe from accidental loss or tampering, and easily available,” adds Holcomb.

FOIL Requests

Previously, the FOIL request process was paper-based, costing the City both money and time. The law mandates that the City inform requestors that their request has been received within five days and that the requested information be made available within 20 days. The City did not always meet deadlines under the paper-based system.

Simply notifying the relevant departments took up to four days and the departments needed weeks to compile all necessary documents and send them to the requestor. Requested information was discarded after delivering it to the requestor, meaning that the entire process needed to occur again if the same information was requested at a later time.

Using Laserfiche:

  • A member of the public submits an online FOIL request form through Laserfiche Forms.
    • Required information includes an email address for notification purposes.
    • A digital signature is created by the requestor when completing the form.
Citizens fill in information about their request through Laserfiche Forms and can submit it from anywhere
  • Laserfiche Forms saves the request form to the repository.
  • Laserfiche Workflow automatically sends an email notification to the requestor, informing them that the request has been received by the City.
Automated notifications through Laserfiche Workflow ensure that the City complies with FOIL
  • Laserfiche Workflow routes the request form to the clerk’s office.
  • A member of the clerk’s office selects the departments relevant to the information request from a dropdown menu in the form’s metadata.
    • The attorney’s office sometimes has a more comprehensive understanding of an issue and knows that additional departments should be included in a search for records so they are notified of every request, enabling them to add or remove departments by altering the form’s metadata.
  • This change prompts Laserfiche Workflow to automatically email both the relevant department(s) and the attorney’s office.
    • If the information request is not fulfilled and the document’s status has not been changed from pending within five days, Laserfiche Workflow automatically sends a reminder email to the selected departments.
  • Members of all relevant departments can add documents to the request folder, facilitating a collaborative work environment.
When the status field in the request’s metadata has been altered, Laserfiche Workflow acts on the document according to the newly selected status
  • After the documents have been added, members of the attorney’s office are given the opportunity to review and redact the information from within Laserfiche.
  • At any point, a member of the attorney’s office can stop the progress of the request by altering a status field in the form’s metadata.
    • The status can be set as pending, denied, approved in part or approved in full.
  • If the request has been denied or partially approved, employees can select various legal definitions from a dropdown menu in the form’s template.
    • The legal definitions automatically populate an email notification to the requestor, explaining why the request was not completed in full.
  • Laserfiche Workflow automatically notifies the requestor via email with their completed request.

After the request has been completed, Laserfiche Workflow archives the document using Laserfiche Records Management Edition, storing it so that it is easily accessible if the same information is requested at a later date. Once archived, the retention schedule is automatically set according to state regulations, meaning that employees do not have to manually track retention and disposition rules.

Laserfiche Workflow automatically routes documents to the appropriate folder according to document type

Automation Benefits

The automation of the FOIL request process has resulted in the following benefits for the City of Ithaca:

  • The City reduced FOIL request processing time by 7,000 hours in the first year.
  • The public has around-the-clock access to the FOIL request form through the City’s website, eliminating the need to travel to City Hall.
  • Since requests are permanently archived in the Laserfiche repository, the City can track what requests the public makes frequently and can make this information available to the public via the Laserfiche WebLink portal.
  • Records available through WebLink are text searchable so the public can easily find information, saving time for both potential requestors and city employees
  • The City always complies with state regulations regarding timely notifications.
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