Saved for the record
Westlake clerk digitizes a century's worth of council documents
After seven years and nearly 20,000 documents, Dover Village has entered the digital age. Dover, as Westlake was known until 1940, originally also included Bay Village and part of North Olmsted. In 1911, shortly after the secession of residents to Bay and North Olmsted, Dover Township was incorporated as a village and Frank Bailey was elected mayor.
Up until the early 1920s, handwritten records were kept of every council meeting and legislation passed. The very first ordinance, passed May 8, 1911, set the salaries of city officials (mayor, $100 per year; clerk, $300 per year; treasurer, $150 per year; marshall, $2.50 per day; council, $2 per meeting).
Thanks to Westlake’s present-day clerk of council, Denise Rosenbaum, that record – and 19,194 others from 1910 to the present – are now stored in digital form, allowing for easy research and protection from damage or loss.
The project began in 2010 when Denise set up the City Council office’s OnBase database, creating document categories, keyword fields and cross references. She began entering and indexing meeting minutes and legislation from the present, working back in time as her schedule permitted.
“The enormity of this project felt like chipping away at an iceberg with only an ice pick,” Denise said, “but patience and persistence paid off.”
Missing and fragile documents added to the complexity of the task. Denise created placeholder documents, verified or created legislation indexes and compared entries to the current codified ordinance tables to ensure accuracy. She took the oldest records in delicate condition to a special scanner at the Cleveland Digital Public Library.
Denise scoured every document, seeking out keywords on the handwritten and typed pages. She manually entered items that would be helpful in future searches, like names, roads, parcel numbers, addresses, legislation numbers, meeting dates and subjects. She also tagged legislation according to various topics such as code amendments, contracts, sidewalks and zoning changes.
The culmination of that effort is a searchable online database containing the entire collection of City Council minutes and legislation from 1910 to the present. It is hosted on the city’s website at docs.cityofwestlake.org, under the Legislation/Minutes drop-down menu.
“It’s a huge sense of accomplishment,” said Denise. “This is a gift to the public, especially the history buffs who enjoy reading about what life was like for our predecessors.”
Available internally and to the public, the database interface still needs some additional work to make searching it more user-friendly. Those who know the legislation number, street address, parcel number or meeting date can go directly to their desired document. To browse by subject, person or street name, the keyword must be bounded on either side by an asterisk.
The next phase of the project will take Denise even further back in time. For seven months she has asked the Western Reserve Historical Society for permission to digitize the Dover Township trustees minutes books from the 1800s. She was recently granted that opportunity, and will begin adding those records to the database as her schedule allows.