Town clerks are the designated keepers of a community’s public records. Clerks must have a thorough knowledge of which type of records can be shared with citizens and are responsible for making sure that these records are easily accessible. New Hampshire state law specifies that municipal records including reports, minutes, tax records, receipts, warrants, deeds and any other written or computerized material that may be designated by the state Municipal Records Board must be available to the public. A town clerk’s office also must ensure that confidential records are secure. Keeping up with the volume of documents, accessibility requirements and enforcing retention schedules is difficult without office automation.
Office automation helps municipal governments mitigate issues such as:
- Poor control over identification, naming, and location of records that affect the retrieval process
- An increased chance that documents will be lost, altered or destroyed
- Difficulty in enforcing retention schedules
- Failure to plan for and test records disaster recovery
- Capture records efficiently
- Apply index data to allow for easy retrieval with standardized classification
- Provide public access when appropriate
- Apply time frames and triggers for document archiving, retention and destruction
- Apply appropriate security and access controls
Town officials and residents agree that cloud-based automation is the way to go
With its 300 employees, the Town Clerk's Office of the Town of Windham, New Hampshire stores and maintains all records for the town’s departments. It also processes and stores documents for its 16,000 residents, including motor vehicle and boat registration, hunting and fishing licenses, census upkeep and marriage, birth and death certificates. The office maintains election and voter records, board meeting minutes and historical documents and is responsible for complying with the state’s records retention policy.
State documents had to be stored on paper or microfilm. But when a state law approved electronic recordkeeping, Town Clerk Nicole Bottai launched a digitization project to manage and retrieve records faster and more efficiently. Together with the Records Retention Committee, Bottai presented her idea and implementation plan to the Board of Selectmen, Capital Improvements Committee and residents. Her plan was approved, and she selected DocuWare for its flexible cloud capabilities, great online reviews and a proven short learning curve.
Goodbye file boxes, hello instant access
Before the office went digital, the staff processed 18,000 motor vehicle registrations annually, all documents in labeled cardboard boxes stacked on metal shelves inside a secure room. The staff manually filed and searched for records, spending 7 to 10 days per month organizing files. With DocuWare in place, Bottai and her coworkers can retrieve documents within minutes.
Using the DocuWare Printer function, the staff can automatically “print” a document to the DocuWare system—and then easily index and store it, eliminating hand filing. “It took us a long time to hand-file motor vehicle registrations,” Bottai says. “Now, as we are printing the registration, it is being sent automatically to DocuWare so we can index it to the correct silo.”
The office back-scanned existing public records, including election records, meeting minutes, town reports, appointment paperwork, and legal cases, among other documents. The staff currently stores about 26,000 documents in DocuWare. “It may seem overwhelming at first,” Bottai says, “but you don’t have to digitize everything all at once; do it piece by piece, one department or area at a time.”
The Town Clerk’s Office intends to bring all departments online with DocuWare to better service both constituents and the Community Development Director. The office plans to give residents access to public documents in DocuWare via the town’s website. Bottai intends to use DocuWare Forms to enable new residents to change driver’s licenses and motor vehicle registration, eliminating cumbersome paperwork. She is also promoting the DocuWare solution to other New Hampshire towns. “If the law in your state allows it, and you have full support from the necessary boards, committees, and the community, I encourage you to absolutely go forward with DocuWare and digital record storage,” she says.