By Victoria Mullen, WKTV
Have you ever filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get information from a governmental body? If so, you are likely familiar with how slow and cumbersome the process can be.
For those not familiar with FOIA, it’s a law that gives the public the right to request information from the federal government, often described as the law that “keeps citizens in the know about their government.” Enacted in 1967, it requires federal agencies to disclose any information requested unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security and law enforcement.
Michigan enacted its own FOIA (Act 442) in 1976.
Kent County currently processes more than 4,300 FOI requests each year. To streamline the process, the county’s Corporate Counsel’s Office has updated the website to allow the public to submit requests for public records online, through the County’s web page. The new electronic system automates the FOIA processing from submission of the request until final disposition.
On June 15, Assistant Corporate Counsel Sangeeta Ghosh, along with AccessKent vendor Webtecs, rolled out the upgraded system for FOIA coordinators who serve at the Sheriff Department, Prosecutor’s Office, Purchasing Division, Health Department, and Animal Shelter. The new system will help process timely FOIA responses, as requestors have the right to file appeals or lawsuits that can result in increased civil fines, punitive damages, and legal fees and costs to a public body.
The upgrade lets users track the status of a FOIA request from start to finish. Upgrades to the system provide a faster turnaround in releasing records, uploading records online for a user to download from his or her preferred device, encryption of confidential records, retention of records, generation of reports, payment by credit or debit card, internal communication between the Corporate Counsel staff and coordinators on formal responses, and monitoring for legal exposure.