Miami-Dade has long posted millions of records online, though information technology administrators readily admit that finding them is not always intuitive. Still, once frequent users become familiar with the website, they can do extensive research and even create maps showing specific information without ever setting foot in County Hall.
Take the county’s environmental resources management division, which began posting records online about eight years ago. Today, anyone with an Internet connection can search the department’s database to browse some 1.6 million records ranging from permit applications to violation notices — some from as far back as the early 1990s, when documents were stored on microfilm.
Instead of having eight employees staffing a counter to receive customers, the department now has two. Others have been moved to a production room lined with computers and scanners, with rows of boxes sitting in the middle. Every day, the department collects paper records it produces to “digitize’’ them. Older documents get scanned as time allows.
“Our file review area used to be a cramped little area,” said Christopher Caporale, the division’s records management section manager. “You had one record, and it was only available to one person in one spot at a time.”
But the database is limited to environmental records. A user can’t search under a specific address, for example, to find records created by other departments, such as building, zoning or the property appraiser.
As part of a two-year proposal to expand public records available online, the county plans to move data housed in different divisions to a central location, which would ultimately allow users to search across departments. The plan also envisions automatically publishing some records online that do not need to undergo prior staff review.
For more sensitive data, the administration would create a public information committee that would decide, with input from the county attorney’s office, whether the records should be posted.
But that is still some time away. The county has yet to identify funding for the bulk of the proposal, which could cost nearly half a million dollars.
Beginning in January, the county will expand a pilot program to post more records online, starting with the accounts payable division, said Mary Fuentes, the information technology department’s director of enterprise solutions. In addition to viewing Miami-Dade’s check register, users will also be able to see invoices related to the checks.
For now, the administration has redesigned the open-government website, MiamiDade.gov/transparency, and posted the salaries database — to Commissioner Jordan’s chagrin.
Jordan said she favors putting more budgetary and procurement information online. But she is concerned that ill-intentioned outsiders could use salary information to target employees, finding out more about them by cross-referencing their names in other public databases, such as in property records. No addresses or Social Security numbers appear on the salaries database.
Salary information is also “misleading,” Jordan said, because it doesn’t include an employee’s qualifications or years of service. Some employees have found out their colleagues’ salaries online and realized they do not get paid the same for a comparable job title — because one employee may have different duties or experience, Jordan said.