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# Civic Experience Platform

The Balance Between Transparency and Security

What Clerks Need to Know to Meet Document Management Requirements

Jennifer Leibrock Headshot

Jennifer Leibrock

Sr. Director of Solutions Operations

February 21, 2024
12 min


A commitment to transparency is one of the most critical responsibilities of a clerk. Transparency enables public trust, creates positive civic experiences, and enables local governments to move policy forward with the greatest possible public awareness. However, clerks face a critical challenge when it comes to transparent document management: how to make access to public records simple and frictionless, using systems that safeguard data from hackers and cyber extortionists.

  • Part I of this blog evaluates clerks’ evolving role in the digital resident engagement era.
  • In Part II, we expose the threats to digital security and provide the latest best practices to safeguard municipal systems and civic and resident information.
  • In Part III, we put it together with a summary of the tips clerks need to know to safeguard transparency documents.

Part 1: The Evolution of the Clerk in Local Government

The reason for transparency in local government is simple. It enables residents to be informed and participate in community dialogue, be educated voters, and serve as engaged community members. To achieve ideal participation, however, clerks cannot merely operate using a “build-it-and-they-will-come” mentality.

Providing links to required public records on a local government website is the first step in stimulating public engagement. The key lies in leading residents to transparent information and digital, participatory opportunities.

Resident Engagement in the Digital Era

The clerk’s role is nearly as established and long-standing as local government itself. For decades, clerks have served as an essential link between local government leaders and the people they serve. Over time, this role has evolved from handing out permit applications to assisting walk-in residents to meeting digital transparency requirements through cloud-based agenda and meeting management solutions.

Post the COVID-19 pandemic, with residents expecting contactless government interactions and the clerk’s role remaining steadfastly ingrained in our municipal operations, service-minded clerks must learn to adapt their workflows and approach their resident interactions from a digital-first mindset.

1. Continue Enabling Online Meeting Access

Many communities had to migrate to virtual meetings during the pandemic. The unexpected benefit of this sudden shift was the realization that virtual attendance opportunities boosted visibility and engagement. By live streaming meetings and posting recorded videos to your municipal website, you allow busy residents to learn about local matters, engage in dialogue, and become informed voters when and where it fits their schedule.

2. Use Data Analytics to Better Understand the Issues that Impact Residents

You already know how important it is to seek resident feedback and ensure your board understands the topics that matter most to residents. In the digital era, however, not only can you survey residents via online polls, but you can monitor trends on the topics that matter most to them through the analysis of digital search data. Utilizing an online agenda and meeting management portal with built-in analytics allows you to analyze the issues, keywords, and topics residents enter into portal search fields to obtain aggregated insight into matters that may need additional municipal focus, discussion, or external communications.

3. Commit to Digital Transparency

Local governments have been making public records, agendas, and meeting minutes accessible to residents for years; thanks to the proliferation of digital technology, resident expectations are rising. It is no longer enough to satisfy transparency requests received by phone calls or mailing document copies. Residents want to self-service their inquiries and have immediate, digital access to reports, records, and agendas at any time of the day or night from any accessible Internet-enabled device. Local governments can best meet the expectations of digitally-minded residents by transforming their transparency workflows by implementing digital, searchable, integrated document repositories and agenda and meeting management solutions. Such tools give residents the access they want while freeing up time for clerks to focus on other essential civic responsibilities.

4. Go Social

When social networks emerged, many public entities hesitated to engage residents using public digital forums. Today, for brands, businesses, and Federal and local government, reaching residents via social media is the new normal and an essential component of an impactful resident engagement strategy. Commit to sharing content via social media by enabling social sharing and digital subscriptions. Streamline your workflows using digital documentation solutions that integrate with your social channels.

Part 2: Understanding Digital Security and Cyber Threats

They’re out there. They hide in the shadows with plans to hold your civic website hostage and use it as ransom for personal gain. They constantly evolve their methods and develop new ways to infiltrate your data. They’re out there looking to hack websites like yours, in communities like yours, but you don’t have to be defenseless in the fight against cyber extortionists, hackers, and attackers.

Every local government needs a plan to protect its residents and their communities from the risk of exposure and exploitation, and every plan needs to start with resilient systems and a continuous monitoring process.

Growing Cyberattack Trends and Increased Risks

Government is the second largest target for hackers. The average attack occurs at a rate of almost 1 Gbps, making it possible for attackers to take an entire organization offline in a matter of seconds if it is not adequately protected by the highest levels of security.

Understanding the Threats to Civic Data

Mega-corporations, hospitals, police departments, and local governments have all made headlines for having their website security and private data threatened by hackers looking to make a profit or a political statement. Two of the most significant threats facing local government websites are ransomware and DDoS attacks.

Ransomware and Cyber Extortionists

Recent years have seen a steady rise in cyberattacks and ransoms demanded by hackers. A growing form of cyber invasion has seen cyber-age extortionists using ransomware software to hijack computer systems, holding them hostage while demanding a ransom payment. These hackers are increasingly preying upon local governments, hospitals, and even police departments, forcing officials to decide whether to meet demands or risk losing their data.

Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDOS) Mitigation

A DDoS attack is when hackers attempt to flood a website with immense traffic using multiple devices and IP addresses. Without DDoS mitigation and recovery plans, the website becomes unavailable, and its data could be compromised or lost.

Federal Regulations

The Cyber Security National Action Plan (CNAP) details the need to combat the increasing number of threats to all areas of digital security. While federal resources are focused on building such reinforcements, local governments are equally tasked with safeguarding resident and government data as they are just as vulnerable to data breaches. Each year, cyberattacks plague local governments with software and hardware replacements, lost revenue, missing data, financial theft, and loss of resident trust. With the loss of data and information, municipalities become liable for any falsification and abuse of the stolen digital property.

Part 3: The Balance Between Transparency and Security

Given the growing threat of cyber-extortionists and the increasing need for easy access to local data and information, how can clerks offer convenient, safeguarded access to public records? The key is in easy-to-use, secure systems.

Security and Hosting Protection

For local governments seeking partnerships with document management vendors, gathering information about the vendor’s hosting, security, and data center is crucial. Often, municipalities choose to host their website internally, with built-in agenda, meeting management, and document management capabilities, and combine it with their phone, email, and financial systems all on their internal network. However, when one item comes under cyber attack, bringing down all other systems on that same network becomes easier. A secured hosting facility for your website ensures that your information is protected no matter your community’s location.

The Need for SSL

If you’re not already hosting your local government website using a secure sockets layer (SSL), it is time to upgrade your hosting services. Users of websites that collect password and credit card information began seeing additional “not secure” warnings from their Google Chrome browser when entering personal information on HTTP websites in October 2017. While Google started issuing warnings in January 2017, it has expanded the types of digital interactions that trigger such messages.

Since then, Google has issued warning messages to website users who input any data — even search terms such as “current budget” or “May 2024 agenda” — into a non-secure website. The purpose of the additional “not secure” warnings is to notify website users that any exchanged data is being sent on an unencrypted connection — which could put personal information, such as a credit card number or password, at risk of being visible to cyber attackers.

For local governments that have taken steps to enhance their digital resident engagement capabilities with online resident self-service features such as document search, permit submission, online voter registration, and utility bill payment capabilities, these latest updates will require the use of SSL moving forward to ensure a secure, and trustworthy resident experience.

How to Obtain an SSL Certificate

To provide the best possible resident experience with your digital transparency tools and to allow residents to utilize your online tools confidently, talk to your website hosting solution provider about adding an SSL certificate to your civic website, or whatever solution you use as a digital transparency document repository. Know that you do not need a dedicated IP address to obtain an SSL certificate and that purchasing one is an inexpensive investment.

Your hosting solution provider should be able to assist you in implementing a certificate with little effort to your municipality.

What to Look for in a Website Host and Digital Transparency Software Partner

When choosing a partner to host your digital content, keep the following requirements in mind:

  • A highly reliable data center in a highly secure facility
  • Managed network infrastructure
  • On-site power backup and generators
  • Multiple telecom/network providers
  • A fully redundant network
  • 24/7 system monitoring
  • Automated software updates
  • Service management and monitoring
  • Multi-tiered software architecture
  • Regular service software and database server updates and security patches
  • Anti-virus management and updates
  • Redundant firewall solutions
  • A disaster recovery plan that includes emergency 24/7 support
  • A defined DDoS mitigation attack process and continuous DDoS mitigation coverage


Local government leaders must treat transparency and security like opposing weights on opposite ends of a scale. The secret to a long-term success strategy is balancing meeting resident transparency requirements and securing data. In the middle of these two equally weighted needs is the apex, where optimal resident engagement can be achieved.

Written by

Jennifer Leibrock Headshot

Jennifer Leibrock

Sr. Director of Solutions Operations

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