Recent changes to public records law, technology and election procedures have expanded the responsibilities of the Clerk’s Office. The City Council hopes that the additional positions will help the department meet the challenges of the moment.
Council approved the addition of three full-time positions and one part-time position in a four-to-one vote during a Jan. 11 Study Session meeting. Councilmember John Mirisch cast the sole dissenting vote, arguing that the investment was too large.
“It just feels to me like going from five to eight point five (positions), that’s just too much, it’s a bridge too far,” he said. “I would support phasing it (the additional staff) in.”
The new positions will cost $577,000 in the 2024 to 2025 fiscal year to $157,400 for the remainder of this fiscal year. In addition, Council approved a one-time appropriation of $120,000 for temporary help fulfilling public records requests.
The recommendation for the department’s reorganization came from consultants Baker Tilly, who analyzed the department’s workload and staffing model as well as that of peer cities such as Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Culver City and Torrance. The study’s authors note that the City Clerk’s Office in Beverly Hills has almost three fewer positions than the average found in these peer cities.
The consultants also identified several reasons the department’s workload has increased in recent years and is likely to continue growing.
The institution of a majority vote-by-mail election system during the pandemic made elections shift from a day-long event to a month-long responsibility for the Clerk’s Office.
In addition, the California Public Records Act recently broadened the definition of records to include media held on private devices, CCTV camera feed, audio records including voicemails, and documents held by consultants and contractors. This requires the department to manage an increased number of records.
The workload created by public records requests will increase even more if voters pass a new ballot measure in November, which is aimed at decreasing the window to fulfill a request to 30 days.
“I think we need to get ahead of it (hiring), because others (cities) are going to be searching for the type of personnel that we are looking for right now, especially if the proposition passes and my guess is it is going to pass,” said Vice Mayor Lester Friedman.
“I think we will be saving money on outside resources that are temporary help, so I believe it is an appropriate expenditure to make,” he added, referring to the fact that the city currently contracts with external vendors for assistance processing records requests.
The consultants also noted that the City Clerk’s Office needs to revamp its digital records management system to centralize documents that are currently stored across various departments.
“Our review suggests the departments have not devoted sufficient staff and resources to managing their records,” states the report. “As a result, the city’s collection or database of records is growing increasingly unwieldy, and this makes it difficult and more time consuming when researching important records or when compiling records related to a public records request or subpoena.”
The goal of the additional positions will also be to free up staff to work on upgrading the city’s use of technology for storing and retrieving records.
Councilmember John Mirisch did not think the additional positions were the best way to adapt to changes in the department’s responsibilities. Instead of hiring more people to handle new technology, he advised looking into how new technology can be leveraged to decrease the workload of staff.
“I’m sure there is developing software, even AI, that is going to help us sift through 30,000 emails,” he said. “Take the approach to fighting crime using technology as a force multiplier, I’m absolutely in favor of doing that to allow us to be more efficient when it comes to public records requests.”