City record system undergoes an overhaul

Friday, April 9, 2010 | 7:33 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — When Ken Burton took over as police chief in 2009, he saw that it was taking police staff two hours to do a 20-minute job.

The problem was the Police Department's antiquated record-keeping system, which required an officer to dictate a portion of a report to a typist who then had to return the document to the officer before the report could be entered into the system.

But the Police Department wasn't alone in its old-fashioned, time-consuming way of keeping records. The Police Department is one of 20 departments integrating a new records management process in the city. Lydia Green, who works in the Police Department's records unit, is coordinating the transition for the department.

“This program is making us more accountable for the records we keep,” she said. “It keeps us organized, kind of like we’re cleaning house.”

The new records and information management program will create transparent audit trails and achieve the city’s mission to provide services and information to the citizens, said Jackie Wagner, a business analyst in the information technologies department of the city. One of those services will be records requests. Improved organization of city records will allow requested records to be retrieved easier.

In 2009, Wagner was hired to work under the direction of a committee of Columbia city workers to construct and implement a new program to help city employees integrate a system for organizing, retaining and managing records.

“It will make records requests more efficient and provide better, more accessible information on the Web,” she said.

The program, which will occur in four phases, is expected to take three to five years to complete. The four phases are as follows:

Phase One: Records inventory

  • Take inventory of record series — sets of records that can be grouped together — in each department.
  • Create index of records for all departments from inventory
  • Identify vital records, which are needed to recover and restore operations in case of an emergency
  • Construct plan from vital records to keep departments running in an emergency

Phase Two: Schedule records

  • Match records to retention schedule, which determines how long records are to be kept

Phase Three: Manage active records

  • Learn about the life cycle of a record
  • Explore how to capture records, such as storing and filing
  • Determine if a record is transitory, meaning it has short-term interest and no business value
  • Discuss how to process Sunshine requests 

Phase Four: Manage inactive records

  • Discover how to store and retrieve inactive records
  • Learn how to transfer inactive records

The city is in phase one of the process but hopes to complete the transformation in the city's smaller departments by the end of the year.

During phase three, departments can decide whether to transfer records to an electronic format. They can either use an OptiView application, which the city already owns, or they can use their own scanner. The OptiView application is an electronic document management system, which can scan paper files into an electronic format.

All records in the new program will apply the same guidelines as required by law. The Missouri Sunshine Law says the records must remain open to the public. Citizens will fill out a public records request and follow the same process as before.

No immediate costs are associated with the new program other than Wagner's salary. Some employees will take time away from other responsibilities to do the inventory.

But Wagner said that, under the current system, city employees are taking time from those duties to look up records.

“When people spend time looking for information they can’t find, there is lost productivity and time associated with that,” she said.

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