Township streamlines access to public documents [Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio :: ]
(Hamilton Journal News (OH) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 08--WEST CHESTER TWP -- A special project by employees here recently made searching trustee meeting minutes and other township documents an easier task for township residents and area businesses.
Previously, residents wishing to search such files would need to review the entire file because the documents were stored as images and remained unsearchable as a result.
That frustrated Barry Riddell, of West Chester, who expressed frustration to trustees last November with the result of a Freedom of Information Act request after being sent an 11-megabyte PDF document in which he couldn't readily find specific information.
Riddell, who said the township's documents are everyone's documents, asked the township to appoint somebody to investigate how to make them readily searchable.
In December, the township started to scan its newly created documents using Optical Character Recognition -- or OCR -- to allow a document to be searched for a keyword, according to Barb Wilson, the township's spokeswoman.
"It's an added convenience," Wilson said. "If people want to do a comprehensive search of everything on a topic that's been discussed and when it's been discussed ... they're going to find what documents that word appears in. Then they can open it and search it in the OCR format."
Like a Google search, the general search will only show that the word appears in a certain document, but will not direct a user to where the word is used, she said.
The township recently completed a two-week process that utilized two staffers to complete about 40 hours of work to scan and convert each set of minutes going back to 2005, Wilson said.
That process can take three to five minutes per file, depending on its size, followed by resaving the document and posting it onto www.westchesteroh.org.
Residents can access documents by visiting that site, then clicking on the "action line" link on the left, then clicking on "main menu" and scrolling down to and selecting "online documents."
Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones praised the new system for not only enhancing residents ability to access records, but also benefiting vendors who might want to compete for the township's business.
"It enables businesses to research business practices and a successful bid by competitors," Jones said. "The goal here is to increase competition and reduce costs for the township."
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