For years and years, reporters and other people who have wanted information from Guilford County government have submitted emails to the appropriate department or to the county attorney of to the the Clerk to the Board’s Office.
However, starting on Monday, June 1, those seeking public records or related information are being asked submit their public records request online to the county’s brand new “NextRequest” system.
A press release announcing the major change in public requests procedure states that the new software platform will “track public records requests across multiple County departments, standardize records processing, and help to monitor the fulfillment of requests in accordance with North Carolina Records Law.”
It also states that the system will help Guilford County’s various departments plan for any costs associated with processing the request and the system will also better ensure that the public receives accurate responses.
According to county officials, the new portal falls in line with Guilford County’s established core values. During the Board’s annual retreat, held in March of this year, commissioners identified “transparency”, “communications” and “accountability” as some of their top focus areas.
One reason reporters and members of the media don’t like this type of system is because the requests will be visible online to competing media outlets and may therefore tip off other news outlets as to what stories the reporters are working on. For instance, if the request was for, say, a controversial contract signed in secret between a former county manager and real estate manager, other news outlets would know of the existence of the unknown contract. Also, once the secret contract was provided to the reporter it would be online for all to see.
The county is reportedly adopting the system because some departments have felt overwhelmed with requests at times. For instance, in recent years, county officials have said that the number of requests regarding information on animals and operations at the Guilford County Animal Shelter. The shelter was at the center of a huge animal mistreatment scandal in 2015 and, in the years that followed animal lovers have paid very close attention to the details of what goes on at the shelter.
One reason county officials say they are going to the new system is to avoid duplication. “Over the years the County has had a decentralized process for records requests creating an inordinate number of duplicative requests and responses.
Guilford County Clerk to the Board Robin Keller stated in the press release that the new system will make things easier all around.
“We are constantly working to improve how we track and respond to records requests and how we can make information more available to the public,” Keller stated. “By implementing this information management platform, Guilford County is following its values and commitment to transparency. NextRquest will centralize and secure public records requests in a more accessible manner and reduce the amount of time our employees devote to processing paperwork and duplicating responses.”
The public can access the portal from the County’s main website at www.guilfordcountync.gov