Palo Alto unlocks online requests for public records

unlocking-public-recordsPalo Alto is making it easier for people to get their hands on government records.

The City of Palo Alto this week launched an online system to process requests in accordance with the California Public Records Act, which requires government agencies in the state to disclose records by request of the public.

“Palo Alto’s online CPRA request form and back-end system is live,” said Mr. Jonathan Reichental, the chief information officer of the City of Palo Alto, in a statement Saturday to the Palo Alto Free Press. “You can find it under the Services menu on the City homepage. It is also accessible via the City Clerk microsite.”

Public officials did not immediately respond to queries from the Palo Alto Free Press in regard to further detail on the new system.

The City of Palo Alto says on its website that the new platform helps to “avoid confusion and delay” when officials respond to requests for public records, but adds that the California Public Records Act declares no limit on the methods in which the public can submit requests. The statement does not confirm whether the public can continue making requests on paper.

Still, the move marks a significant step toward transparency for the city’s government, which in 2012 unveiled an open data platform. The recent addition to the city’s website allows the public to easily access census data, pavement condition ratings, tree locations, bike paths and other government records previously available through less convenient means. The platform supports an application programming interface (API), which lets developers use the data in third-party applications.

Mr. Reichental said in an interview with Mashable in July 2012 that the city hopes its efforts build public trust in government. “We’re starting at a place where we can build our expertise and take the community with us. They’ll give us strong, important feedback and we’ll go on this journey together,” said Mr. Reichental.

“We’re not just reinforcing expectation that government should provide services, but that it helps facilitate citizenship,” added Mr. Reichental.

The redaction and confidentiality of some of the information exchanged between public officials, however, remain protected under state law.

Here is a link to the city’s online submission form for requests of public records.