Done in record time
It's a bit ironic, when you think about it.
Several years ago, in an effort to foster more transparency with public records, the City of West Linn has joined more than two dozen other agencies across the state in using the Oregon Records Management Solution (ORMS) HP TRIM program — a cloud-based, statewide electronic records management system that is considered the first of its kind in the United States. New records are added to a West Linn public database every day — some dating back as far as 1913, when the city was founded.
Now, if only people would notice.
"I try to promote it as much as I can," said Teresa Zak, records coordinator and deputy city recorder for West Linn. "We have it on the front page of our website, but a lot of people don't realize, I don't think, that this information is sitting out there for their use."
As part of a state effort to improve public records access, ORMS grew out of a public-private partnership between the Oregon Secretary of State Archives Division, Chaves Consulting, Inc. and Arrikkan, Inc. Since those three groups joined to begin creating the records software in 2009, West Linn and a number of other nearby jurisdictions like Oregon City and Milwaukie have come on as early adopters.
The idea is to improve both the efficiency and transparency of record keeping at City Hall, with the ultimate goal of relying entirely on a digital database that's easy to access and search.
"Eventually the dream is to get rid of all of our paper documents," Zak said. "It's dependent on staff time ... If we're too understaffed and have trouble just getting the daily work out, it's hard to go backwards."
Zak, for her part, adds documentation from public records requests into the TRIM database as soon as she completes the requests — a habit she's trying to instill throughout the various departments at City Hall as they deal with public documents.
"It takes a lot more time to go backwards to put your records in than to manage them as they happen," Zak said. "Because it really only takes two seconds to drag and drop."
Indeed, the program is intended to be user-friendly for employees and members of the public alike. Records can be dragged and dropped into the database by staff members with a few clicks, and the program features a number of search options that are intended to make it easier to find specific documents.
"'Title word' is our biggest search (function)," Zak said.
Type a topic or name into that search field, and the system will bring up every public document with that in its title. As an example, Zak types in "Robinwood Station," which quickly generates documents like City Council agenda packets or city manager memos in chronological order.
"We have over 9,000 documents in the system that people could search for," she said. "We also have some historical documents in there ... but I'm assuming that lots of people are looking for what's important to them in the moment. This gives them a chance to see that."
Zak said the program is also saving a substantial amount of staff time — and therefore money — when records need to be filed or retrieved.
"For staff in-house, it is amazing," she said. "The building official sent an email to myself and a few other people. He was super happy and said, 'It took me less than a minute to find some information I was looking for that would have taken three staff members half a day apiece."
The system can even help staff in the core decision-making aspects of their jobs, Zak said, simply by making it easier to access pertinent information.
"Besides all the time and money it saves, it really lets staff make better decisions by having the most information it possibly can," Zak said.
West Linn City Councilor Teri Cummings has long been an advocate for enhancing access to public records. And while she hopes the TRIM database becomes more user-friendly in the future for those who are less tech savvy, Cummings is pleased with the initiative as a whole.
"It's great to have access to information without having to submit a records request and wait for it to be completed," Cummings said.
City Councilor Rich Sakelik echoed those sentiments.
"I haven't heard of any complaints and I don't use the system often enough to really fairly assess it. In general, I believe it works as it was designed," he said. "I am big on making it as easy as possible for public records to be accessed. This I believe is a good first step."
To search the database, visit https://westlinnoregon.gov/citymanager/webdrawer.