When two different people nominate the same employee for the SPOKE Award, you know that individual is truly deserving of the award. That is the case with our most recent winner – Tonia Walters – who was nominated by Officer John Linton and Lieutenant Jonathan Bastian.
SPOKE stands for skilled, professional, outstanding, knowledgeable and exceptional. The award recognizes an employee for their outstanding performance and contribution to their job.
Tonia is one of three assistant records custodians in the Bureau of Administration’s Open Records Unit in the Police Department. In her role, she is tasked with assisting the department’s records coordinator and records custodian in the handling and processing of all internal and external requests for department records.
“It is essential that each employee of this unit is knowledgeable, organized, hardworking, maintains a high level of attention to detail and has excellent attendance overall,” said Officer Linton. “This past year, Tonia not only met all of the standards associated with these skills but exceeded them at an unparalleled level.”
If you are thinking there couldn’t possibly be that many request for records or even how hard could the job be, you couldn’t be more wrong. In 2017, the Open Records Unit completed 6,489 records requests, a 22-percent increase from the previous year. And remember, there is a mandated three-day response deadline for a major portion of the received requests.
The unit, made up of four employees, receives a wide range of requests varying in the type of requestor (attorneys, insurance agencies, media, etc.) and nature of the associated incident. Additionally, there are laws and policies that govern the release or exemption of the records requested.
Many of the open records requests are highly complex and involve multiple factors. There are numerous unrelated sections of law that address what can, cannot and may be released. The wrong interpretation of state law or policy could open up an employee, the department or the city to possible legal action.
And if understanding all the essentials of open records law but also the various nuances that make open records a challenge, in the fall of 2016 this section had to meet another new challenge – the implementation of body worn cameras and how to efficiently and correctly handle request for the video. This required all employees to learn how to access videos in the new video storage system as well as learn two redaction software programs. And this process is not just turning over the entire requested video. All videos must first be painstakingly reviewed, usually frame-by-frame, and edited to remove sensitive or personal information.
Well before the first body camera hit the street, Tonia initiated discussions within the unit, with her supervisors and even the Law Department to ensure the city was as adequately prepared when the time came for the first wave of body worn cameras to be implemented.
Tonia’s co-workers also view her as a clear source of knowledge, an informal leader the unit. In 2017, she was assigned to train a new assistant records custodian in the tasks, policies, procedures and laws required to perform the job. And because this employee was not only new to the unit but new to the Police Department, Tonia also taught the new employee the foundational basics of the Police Department.
“Tonia is probably the center pin of the unit’s open records processes,” said Lt. Jonathan Bastian. “Tonia has researched case law, opinions of the attorney and state law. Her coworkers view her as a clear source of knowledge, an informal leader in the unit.”
Tonia regularly offers to assist coworkers in her unit as well as other units within the Department. For example, the Property and Evidence Unit has a backlog of old paperwork to process electronically. Tonia uses any available downtime in her primary job to scan and file the old documents. She never turns down an opportunity to assist within her unit or within the department.
“Tonia is an invaluable member of the unit,” said Linton. “Her experience, dedication and interpersonal skills enhance the quality of the unit as an entity and in the way the unit is operated. She has taken great initiative to obtain any and all information regarding open records and police work, and as a result, has become an extremely knowledgeable asset to not only the unit but the Police Department as a whole.”
“Tonia has a smile every day, an enviable work ethic and unparalleled dedication to her job,” said Bastian. “She accomplishes all of her duties with an infectious positive attitude which she shares with all her co-workers.”