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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lake County Needs E-Records as Standard Operating Procedure, Not Afterthought

If I read last night's MDL headliner correctly, Lake County is looking at spending some money in next year's budget to scan a new batch of plats into electronic format. The equalization office is also requesting funding for the delayed Geographical Information System.

I approve of both of these moves. Lake County has lagged in putting online tools to good use. GIS will make it easier for residents, businesses, researchers, and prospective investors to get their hands on useful public information. And scanning the plats and whatever other public documents are filed in the courthouse makes it easier to share that information with citizens who want it.

But notice something: the county paid for a big document scanning not so long ago. Evidently we made a big push to get all those old papers into electronic format... and then proceeded to keep generating more paper. Will this be the pattern, that we have all of our older records on the computer, while the newest information can only be accessed on paper? That seems odd and inefficient.

What we really need is an overhaul of standard operating procedure in the courthouse. We need to move the initial creation and processing of all public documents—plats, building permits, what have you—to electronic format. Put daily back-ups on remote servers, generate hard copies as necessary, and put all those e-documents online where all citizens can access them, the way the Internet gods intended.

Granted, that sort of operational change would be a difficult and expensive change at our courthouse. It would be worth the trouble. But in the meantime, I'd settle for just having the county commission minutes and budget on the Lake County website.


  1. Just recently I saw on the local jail log (which is public) a juvenile whose name was withheld, who was arrested for drugs. But it did include an address where he was arrested at. I went to our city/county GIS site and discovered it was the home of a sheriff's deputy. So I looked at court records online, typed in the deputy's last name, and found his son had a pending drug case.

    That's all information I could have dug up in the courthouse, but that could have taken hours if not days, and there's always the human element from those who feel they need to be the gatekeepers and question why you need access to the information.

    But in a matter of minutes, I pieced it all together from online records.

    So I obviously agree with you that cities and counties need to make public records easily accessible online.

    Our GIS system shows what voting precinct, school district, etc a property is in. It has a sales history, tax records, assessment figures, even photos for nearly every property.

    Meanwhile you just want commission meeting agendas. That's ridiculous.

  2. That kind of journalistic service is invaluable for keeping people informed about public affairs. Keep up the good work, Steve!

    And yes, it is ridiculous that we don't even have commission agendae online yet. We have a long way to go!


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