The role of the municipal clerk is often a misunderstood position in local government. To the casual observer, clerks are often thought to fulfill a primarily clerical role. However, upon closer look, the importance of the position’s role becomes clear. The tasks assigned to the clerk are dictated by law or statute and include some of the most basic services expected by residents. In fact, city clerks are often the first and most direct link between residents and government. The position is also responsible for providing transparency in local government.
In the City of Edmonds, the Clerk’s Office performs a variety of important functions. It authenticates, records and maintains the city’s official legislative acts, assuring compliance with legal requirements for Washington State municipalities. The Clerk’s Office responds to public records requests, schedules and coordinates city council weekly agendas and meeting packets, and prepares city council meeting minutes. The Clerk’s Office is also responsible for notification of city council meetings and public hearings, business licensing, parking permits, records management and other activities.
Recently, during the current State Legislative session, three new laws were enacted that will affect the City of Edmonds in two primary areas: 1) The Public Records Act, and 2) business licensing.
Public Records Act
The Legislature passed two bills related to the Public Records Act: HB 1594 and HB 1595, which are awaiting the Governor’s signature. HB 1594 establishes a local government grant program for technology investments to help manage public records, provides funding to the Attorney General’s office to provide for consultation with local governments on public records issues, and requires agencies that spend more than $100,000 per year on records management to report certain items annually to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee. HB 1595 authorizes charges for electronic records based on gigabyte, allows for a customized access fee for requests that require extraordinary work to respond, establishes that a request for “all or substantially all” records of an agency is not an identifiable request under the act, and prohibits certain automated requests. Passage of these two bills represents significant work by a large group of stakeholders spanning nearly 12 months. Cities are committed to open and transparent government and Edmonds has worked hard to encourage legislation that upholds that commitment, while helping to address the challenges facing the Public Records Act from ever-changing technology.
A new law will require most cities to partner with the Department of Revenue (Department) to administer general business licenses through the Department’s Business Licensing Service. The cities of Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, and Everett have been working together since 2010 to simplify the process of local business licensing and B&O tax filing. In 2014 these cities signed an interlocal agreement to establish a “one-stop” system for tax payment and business license application filing to make it easier and more efficient for businesses to apply for local business licenses, and file local taxes, while the cities retain local control over local licensing, tax collection functions, and policies. This joint effort is to create an Internet website application gateway where tax collection and business licensing functions can be collectively administered, and where businesses operating in multiple cities can use a one-stop system for tax payment or local business license application filing. This website began operations in 2016 and is known as FileLocal.
Online Public Records Request Portal
Finally, effective May 1, 2017, the city implemented a new online Public Records Request Portal, hosted by GovQA. Customers can easily submit and check the status of their public records requests, as well as retrieve their responsive documents. This site includes a comprehensive list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), which will assist customers in seeking public records and information. The Records Archive enables the public to view past requests, including the records responsive to those requests. This portal provides effective automation and workflow for City staff responding to public records requests, which will translate into increased efficiency, communication, and transparency to the public.
— By Scott Passey, City Clerk