CLEVELAND, Ohio – The city of Cleveland, notorious for its slow response to public records requests, announced Thursday it will test an online public records management system it hopes will improve the the city’s records request and tracking process.
The system, GovQA, will be available through the city’s website beginning in mid-November. It will allow records requests to be ﬁled through an online portal. People making requests will be able to track the city’s progress toward providing public documents and receive email updates.
“Public records should be readily available and we want to streamline the process in which citizens receive information,” Mayor Frank G. Jackson said in a statement. “The new system is not the ﬁnal answer, but an important ﬁrst step in a comprehensive eﬀort to fulﬁll requests in a timelier manner.”
City oﬃcials were not immediately available Thursday morning to discuss how quickly requests would be turned around through the new system.
Ohio law requires that requests for copies of public documents be answered within a reasonable time. And the Ohio Supreme Court has held that a shortage of staﬀ cannot be used as an excuse for not meeting the requirements of the state’s Open Records Law.
But the city long has been criticized for its slow response in ﬁlling public records requests. Two requests cleveland.com made in August seeking copies of contracts, time sheets and emails, for example, remain unﬁlled two months later. An email requesting an update on the status of the requests went unanswered.
As of May, the city had been the subject of 14 complaints – by far the most of any public entity in Ohio — under a new system meant to help mediate disputes over public records requests.
A coalition of news organizations, including cleveland.com, is on the verge of suing the city, contending that it is obstructing state law through its slow response.
Chris Quinn, president and editor of Advance Ohio and cleveland.com, welcomed the city’s announcement.
“I’m glad to see anything that makes public records -documents that the public owns — readily available, and we will watch closely to see if this new system gets the city into compliance with the state’s public records law,” Quinn said.