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JLARC Public Records Program Reporting Deadline Coming Up Fast


May 26, 2022  by  Ashley Elliott
Category:  Public Records Act Guest Author

JLARC Public Records Program Reporting Deadline Coming Up Fast

Editor's note: This blog post has been updated to note the deadline reporting extension, including an option for small agencies under the $100,000 reporting threshold to directly email JLARC instead of logging into the portal.


The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) has opened the Public Records Reporting System for reporting 2021 data.

Any local government that in the prior year had $100,000 in staff and legal costs associated with fulfilling public records requests will need to report this data via the Public Records Reporting System. Local governments whose public records management costs fall under $100,000 annually may also report data but are not required to.

The original reporting deadline was July 1, 2022. However, JLARC has extended the 2021 public records reporting submission period to August 31, 2022.

If your agency meets the $100,000 reporting threshold, please log in and complete your public records report. If your agency does not meet the threshold, you can alternatively email ashley.elliott@leg.wa.gov or JLARCPublicRecStudy@leg.wa.gov and have your status recorded.

Background

Since 2017 and with the stated intent to “improve best practices for dissemination of public records,” RCW 40.14.026 has required certain public agencies (i.e., those with $100,000 or more in annual public records program costs) to collect data about a variety of performance metrics, including cost, staff time, and response time. MRSC legal consultant Oskar Rey wrote about the reporting system when it was first unveiled in 2018, with the blog covering several questions consultants had received about the program.

Every year, the data is compiled into an interactive briefing report, presented by staff to JLARC, and distributed to the Washington State Legislature. This report is also available on the JLARC website.

2020 Report Findings

A record number of agencies (232) reported data in 2020. These agencies reported:

  • Receiving 336,008 requests,
  • Closing 176,432 requests within five days,
  • Averaging 17 days from request receipt to closure,
  • Fulfilling 77% of requests electronically, and
  • Spending $87 million responding to requests.

For 2020, 895 agencies submitted data to JLARC or indicated that they did not meet the $100,000 expenditure threshold. JLARC estimates that 2,440 Washington agencies — including cities, towns, counties, special purpose districts, higher education institutions, the Washington State Legislature, and state agencies, boards, or commissions — were subject to the Public Records Act in 2020, meaning 37% of agencies either reported data or reported not meeting the threshold to submit data.

At 34% of the total, state-based institutions were among the highest number of agencies reporting data in 2020, followed by cities and towns at 24%, and counties at 22%. The lowest rates of reporting were seen among special purpose districts, though South Sound 911 held the special distinction of having received the most records requests (38,838 total). Fortunately, for others reporting, the average number of requests per agency was 1,448.

Agencies spent $4.8 million on litigation for 102 court claims alleging a statutory violation.

The report also offers information on the number of request clarified and/or abandoned, groups primarily making records requests, the costs of records management programs, performance metrics, and more.

2021 Reporting

With the Public Records Reporting System now open, JLARC encourages all agencies to log into the system and do one of the following:

  • Report public records request data (required if agency spent over $100,000 in public records management costs in 2021); or
  • Report data (optional if agency spent under $100,000); or
  • Check box to indicate that reporting is not required (agency spent less than $100,000).

If you make any changes to your data, please remember to save it, and resubmit the report. JLARC staff do not receive updates unless the report is resubmitted. The deadline to submit agency data is July 1, 2022.

JLARC offers reporting instructions to help with data submission, and if you have any additional questions, please send us an email at JLARCPublicRecStudy@leg.wa.gov.

If your agency is not required to report data, MRSC still encourages agencies to collect the data. This information is useful for local decision-makers when justifying the cost of investments in additional personnel and technological resources.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’m new to this role, can I use my predecessors account to report?

Only if they used a generic email that you have access to, such as an email via a web-based system like Gmail or Hotmail. The reporting system uses email addresses to both verify an account and reset passwords.

Even if you can access the account via your predecessor’s email, you should create a new account moving forward. Instructions for creating an account are available in the reporting instructions, starting at the bottom of page 3.

Can you reset my password for me?

You actually reset your password yourself! There is a forgot password link on the log-in page, which is immediately to the right of the password heading. The forgot password link is in the same font and almost the same color as the word ‘password,’ so it is quite easy to miss. If you are still having trouble finding it, send me an email and I will send you a screenshot. And don’t feel bad — it is really hard to see.

ForgotYourPassword

I can’t access the system this year even though I could access it last year. What is happening?

I’m sorry this is proving more difficult this year. Has your email changed from last year? The reporting system uses your email domain to grant access to your agency. Agencies, most often cities, change their email domains, and if we are made aware of this change, we will quickly grant the new email domain access. This is all done so that only members of your agency can enter and/or change data on behalf of your agency.

Another issue might be that we do not have an email domain for your agency or the domain you are using might be too generic (e.g., Gmail, Yahoo). If the email domain is too generic, we are waiting for a specific user to log in. Once a specific user logs in, we grant that user access to the account and they should be able to access it without issues moving forward.

Where can I see all the data I need to collect?

There are two places to view the data. The agency guidance document is an in-depth look at all the data elements and the definitions of the data elements. The reporting instructions walk you through the reporting system and includes screenshots of each screen in the reporting system, which allows you to view the actual elements you will need to enter into the system. Remember that the reporting system does all the calculations for you — with the exception of a calculated median for Metric 3 (Average and median number of days from receipt of request to the date the request is closed).

I don’t see my agencies data in the JLARC report. I have my confirmation right here. What happened?

That’s a great question. The Public Records Reporting System allows you to make changes until it closes on the July 1 reporting deadline. However, once you start editing your account (and even if you don’t make a change) the system assumes you are making changes and pulls the data out database. In order to prevent this from happening, anytime anyone goes into the reporting system after the data has been submitted, have them save the data and then re-submit it. This process mimics the Save command in Word, making the most recent submission your newest copy.

Final Note

The raw data from reporting agencies will be published in September on the JLARC website. Please review your agency’s data to see if it accurate. If not, it’s a lot easier to fix errors like this at the beginning of the data analysis then at the end. You can send corrections to JLARCPublicRecStudy@leg.wa.gov.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Ashley Elliott

Ashley joined the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) as a Research Analyst in February of 2014. Before working at JLARC, she worked as an office assistant for a nonprofit organization in Olympia. Prior to this, she spent two years as an English language instructor in South Korea. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degrees in both International Affairs and Spanish from Eastern Washington University.

Ashley is writing as a guest author.The views expressed in guest columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

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