Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News


Lake City’s Own Sunshine Girls
Audrey Sikes and Michelle Green

by Stew Lilker

City Clerk Audrey Sikes at the computer
City Clerk, Audrey Sikes, sorts through the city's electronic data base of digitized records.

Gov. Charlie Crist has proclaimed this week “A Week of Sunshine” and urged Florida’s citizens to celebrate Florida’s dedication to making state and local government accessible and transparent to the public.

Two weeks ago the Observer interviewed Lake City’s own Sunshine Girls, City Clerk Audrey Sikes and Deputy Clerk Michelle Green. The City Clerk’s Office serves as a beacon of sunshine for all of Columbia County and is no doubt what the Governor had in mind when he proclaimed “A Week of Sunshine.”

Lake City’s dedication to the Sunshine Laws is best told in the words of the folks that make the system work every day, City Clerk Audrey Sikes and her deputy, Michelle Green.

The Observer:         How many requests did you have last year and how long does it usually take to answer them? 

Ms. Sikes:     Last year we had 399 requests. We try to answer them as soon as we can. It depends on what’s going on. I would say most of the time we answer the request in the same day.

The Observer:         What has been your biggest request?

Ms. Sikes:     Last year we had one request that ended up being just under 6000 pages. It was mostly e mails and we had to go page by page. Even though we are just about all digital, that didn’t help with this request.

The Observer:         How much did that cost?

(Ms. Sikes spun around and brought up her excel spread sheet, which the city uses for tracking records requests. She had the answer in about ten seconds)

Ms. Sikes:     This was a big job. It cost $2257.31. The only way we could keep track of this was to keep a time log. This was really a lot of work and I think we lost money on this one.

Audrey explaining her jobThe Observer:         How many requests did you charge for last year?

Ms. Sikes:     Only about fifteen. This year so far we’ve received 93 requests and charged for five. I think we are very fair and have not charged for time this year. If we do maps we charge exactly what Hunter Printing charges us and even if we have a pull charge, we absorb that.

The Observer:         Do you charge if someone wants to inspect records?

Ms. Sikes:     I don’t charge if I am doing my work. If I can do something else, why would I charge? That would not be in the spirit of the Sunshine Laws. If you want to come in and read minute books while I do my work, you can come in and sit there all day, every day.

         It is our job to serve the public and we do it the best that we can.

Mayor Steve Witt and City Clerk Audrey Sikes.

(Lake City’s popular mayor, Steve Witt stopped by unannounced looking for a record. Once again, it took only a few moments for Ms. Sikes to locate the record)

The Observer:         Mr. Mayor, I’m doing a story on the City Clerk’s Office and records access. Would you like to say something?

Mayor Witt:  Audrey and Michelle do a great job for us and all the city’s residents. I don’t know what we would do without them. (The Mayor left with the information he needed)

The Observer:         Audrey, what do you do if someone wants to listen to a tape of one of the city’s meetings.

Ms. Sikes:     We let them listen to it. From time to time Jeff Hardison of the Lake City Reporter needs to listen to a tape. I set the tape recorder up outside my office and let him listen to it. This way the media can take their notes and do what they have to do without someone looking over their shoulder.

The Observer:         One final question before I speak with your deputy. How are you folks about answering questions?

Ms. Sikes:     Even though the public records law says we don’t have to answer questions, we do. If we can help someone, why wouldn’t we? Oh, and one more thing. Before you speak to Michelle, I have to mention Zac [Mears] our IT guy. He is doing a great job and we couldn’t do this without him and his support.

(The Observer went down the hall and spoke with Deputy Clerk, Michelle Green)

The Observer:         That is quite a scanner you have there. Can you tell me a little about it.Deputy Clerk Michelle Green Scanning Documents

Ms. Green:    I know it’s a Fujitsu and it scans about a hundred sides a minute. Zac knows all the technical stuff. We scan the documents in and we can send them out in either tif or pdf formats.

The Observer:         What is digitized, so far?

Ms. Green:    Right now we scan all the contracts, leases, minutes, resolutions. We do it as we get it. I am trying to obtain all the material for the Council meetings before the meeting. If I have it prior to the meeting, they can have it digitally.

The Observer:         It’s getting late and I appreciate your staying after hours to answer these questions. Is there anything else you’d like to say.

Ms. Green:    For our office, doing things digitally is the way to go. It is efficient and saves us money. It takes less time for me to scan and e mail something than getting up and making a copy and all the rest that that entails. Having everything in digital format makes research a breeze. If I have it in the computer I can usually have it available in a flash.

Deputy Clerk Michelle Green looking at just
a few of the papers that are in the city's
digitized filling system.

          It’s a whole new world. I don’t know how we did it before technology. The benefits far outweigh the cost.

(Ms. Sikes stepped in the office)

The Observer:         I’d like to thank you two for your time. Audrey, I leave the last word for you.

Ms. Sikes:     We hope to eventually open this up to the public and we hope by next month to have our indexed records open in house.

          It is our job to serve the public and we do it the best that we can.