The Washington Coalition for Open Government represents individuals and organizations intent on preserving and protecting Washington's Open Government Laws - Open Records and Open Meetings. Its mission is to represent the public in matters where open government issues are raised, are threatened, or deserves broader exposure.
The Coalition conducts public workshops and forums around the state, involving the public, public officials, and the media in discussing government accessibility as provided in the various statutes that assure such access and accountability from our public agencies.
Reading from the Declaration of Independence: "Public Records" also concerned the Founders of the United State
Electing2Blog: July 3, 2014
By: Walter Neary
Our ability to get public records from any level of government that you or I may want to know about is important to the conduct of democracy. That ability is certainly important to the Washington Coalition for Open Government. And here’s something that was a surprise to this member of the board: it turns out that those of us who believe government should make its records available freely are part of a heritage that echoes from words written 238 years ago during the founding of the United States..
Back when Thomas Jefferson and the team were writing the Declaration of Independence, they agreed on various complaints about the king and the English government. I’ve “read” the Declaration before, and by that, I mean my eyes have wandered over the text. I don’t remember this passage from my school days. But then the president of the WCOG board, Toby Nixon, pointed out that one in their long list of grievances against the king says this (italics mine:)
“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures”
Once again, city of Yakima on wrong side of transparency
Yakima Herald: June 19, 2014
The city of Yakima has practically written the book on dawdling and delaying release of information about police officer misconduct. Now that it has lost in court, the city is long overdue in writing a new chapter of openness and transparency about police operations.
The most recent case in question is a tawdry one involving former police Sgt. Erik Hildebrand, who was accused of misconduct in March 2012. The Yakima Herald-Republic at that time sought copies of the department’s internal investigation of the officer. The city denied the request on the grounds that the investigation was still active, even though internal affairs officers had turned in their report.
Editorial: Don't create exception for lawmakers' personal cellphones used for official business
The Seattle Times: June 18, 2014
A SPATE of public-records cases in Washington state are raising a question that shouldn’t have to be asked at all: Should public officials be allowed to evade public-records requests when they use their own cellphones, computers and email accounts? Of course not, but that hasn’t kept them from trying.
Take Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. Sometimes he uses his personal cellphone to send text messages about county business, and not his county-issued cellphone. He says he ought to be able to keep those messages secret because he is paying the phone bill. When Lindquist refused to cooperate with a Public Records Act request, a detective in the Sheriff’s Department filed a suit that currently awaits a ruling in the state appeals court’s Division II.
Lining up on Lindquist’s side are the Washington Federation of State Employees and the Washington Education Association, which have filed briefs on his behalf.
But the judges should have no trouble seeing the flaws in Lindquist’s legal reasoning. A private cellphone really is no different from a private email account; and where email is concerned, the courts have been clear. A series of rulings have established that, whether a public official uses a personal mailbox or an official one, the emails still must be disclosed.
Opening up jail negotiations would inform public
The Olympian: June 17, 2014
When will Thurston County start housing prisoners in the new $45 million Accountability and Restitution Center? Nobody knows, because opening the new jail depends on the outcome of negotiations with the county corrections officers’ union, which have been closed to the public.
For nearly four years, the ARC has sat empty. But it has cost the county – in addition to debt payments – about $500,000 per year to maintain a vacant facility.
Commissioners said in April that they were within weeks of closing a deal with the union to work modified 12-hour shifts. The county says it needs that concession to eliminate overtime and save enough money to hire the six or seven additional deputies necessary to open the ARC.
But almost two months later, there’s still no deal.
Sword and Shield for the Fourth Estate
King County Bar Association
By: David M Norman
My litigation career began when Michele Earl-Hubbard took a chance on me. Fresh off completing the bar exam in 2008, I saw an advertisement for a contract attorney position at a small law firm in Seattle. The firm was Allied Law Group, founded by Michele and one of her colleagues the year previous.
Allied is a unique, boutique law firm that focuses on media and appellate law, and enforcing Washington's open government laws (public record and open meetings laws, and the right to open courts). After accepting Michele's offer, I had no idea what to expect.
Michele's experience and reputation in these areas were apparent from the start. Within a month of starting at Allied, I was helping Michele with several of her cases at the lower appellate and state Supreme Court levels. While her clients ranged from individual reporters, to small and large newspapers to everyday citizens who simply wanted access to public records, what they all had in common was absolute trust in Michele to handle their cases from the filing of the complaint, to argument at the highest court in the state.
Guest: Taxpayers should be able to monitor public-employee contract negotiations
The Seattle Times: June 10, 2014
By: Jason Mercier
IMAGINE that the governor is holding a series of secret closed-door negotiations with a company that could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer expenses. Now imagine that the same company secretly meeting with the governor is also a campaign contributor. Also imagine that the Legislature is barred from changing the details of an agreement negotiated in secret with the governor and can only vote up or down on funding the final proposal.
You bet! Yet that is exactly what happens each time state and local officials in Washington negotiate pay and benefits with public-employee unions.
Sounding off at lawmakers may no longer require a trip to Olympia
MyNorthwest: June 9, 2014
By: Chris Sullivan
Olympia determines your taxes. It determines what transportation packages get funded. It makes laws that impact your life.
Yet few taxpayers have the time to travel to Olympia in order to let lawmakers know how they really feel.
But that could be changing.
The Washington legislature could start allowing remote testimony as early as next session. Alaska already allows it and so does Nevada. Colorado's governor just signed a bill into law approving it.
Jason Mercier with the Washington Policy Institute knows it's a pain for anyone to get to Olympia for a hearing.
"To come over to Olympia for your three minutes of testifying on an issue important to you, you're being asked to commit an entire day and maybe an overnight," he said. "For many Washingtonians, that's just not realistic."
So many great ideas or great perspectives that lawmakers need to hear are never heard.
Lege committees hit Spokane June 17
The Spokesman-Review: June 6, 2014
The Senate Energy and Environment Committee comes east for a June 17 hearing on possible legislation to control oil trains. Leaders of the House and Senate Joint Transportation Committees will talk about freight and regional transportation priorities the same day, then do two-day bus tour through Eastern Washington to talk about rail projects.
The oil train hearing starts at 10:30 a.m. at Spokane City Hall and the transportation hearing at 1 p.m. at the Convention Center. The bus tour’s tentative schedule starts bright and early June 18, and includes Spokane and Spokane Valley, the international airport, Airway Heights, Rosalia, Pullman, Colfax and Ritzville.
Convicted felon, officials wrangle over public records
HeraldNet: May 30, 2014
By: Diana Hefley and Scott North
EVERETT — Jesse Harkcom calls himself a public records advocate.
City attorneys on May 22 won a key round in their fight against him. They convinced Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Appel to kill a couple of Harkcom's records requests. One could have forced the city to turn over millions of pages of information.
As part of the ruling, the judge also granted Everett permission to ignore any other records requests from Harkcom over the next 10 years.
It is an unusual case brought under strange circumstances.
WCOG - Triumph for Open Records!
May 16, 2014
Whistleblower Carl Hu on troubled charity: 'I think it's kind of shameful'
Carl Hu, a past winner of a Key Award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government, is in the news again.
KOMO television's Tracy Vedder reports that the Internal Revenue Service has revoked the nonprofit status for the Breast Cancer Prevention Fund, which last year filed for bankruptcy. KOMO also reports that the Washington state Office of the Attorney General has filed a $20.2 million claim against the fund with the bankruptcy court.
Editorial: State Supreme Court should not allow sealing of court records
The Seattle Times: May 9, 2014
THE Washington state Supreme Court has been asked to consider a radical change in rules governing secrecy of court records. If justices sign off on this proposal, records of criminal proceedings might vanish from public view without a trace, and corporations could more easily sweep away a paper trail of malfeasance.
To say it’s a bad idea is a gross understatement.
At issue is General Rule 15, which governs the sealing of court records. The changes, proposed by a judicial subcommittee, are described as an update to reflect recent Supreme Court rulings, but they are much more than that.
Attorney Eric Stahl, who submitted comments for the Washington Coalition for Open Government and two newspaper groups, described the proposal as “an overreaching attempt to rewrite” long-established rules.
Editorial: Give citizens opportunity to be heard in Olympia
The Spokesman-Review: May 8, 2014
With the state Capitol on the west side of the Cascade Range, it’s always been a challenge for Eastern Washington citizens to stay engaged in the legislative process. Technology has long been available that would make remote testimony possible.
Legislators just needed the will to make it happen.
Finally, they seem to be coming around to the idea, according to a recent survey conducted by Washington State University. Lawmakers were asked: “Should video-conferencing be used to allow for constituents to provide remote testimony?” A supermajority of 72 percent of them said yes.
Legislative staffers were asked for ways technology could be used to improve the legislative process. Allowing remote testimony was among the most common answers.
State Auditor: Pasco City Council email use did not violate state law
Tri-City Herald: May 7, 2014
By: Geoff Folsom
The state Auditor's Office has rejected most of the complaints made against the Pasco City Council and city staff by an annexation opponent.
Council members Saul Martinez and Rebecca Francik did not violate city or state policy by sending personal emails from their city accounts, said Ginny Waltman, the auditor's office's Tri-City team manager in an April 23 letter to Roger Lenk.
City Manager Gary Crutchfield did violate the city's policy, though not state law, by responding to the emails on a city computer, the letter said.
Personal use of city email accounts is allowed, as long as council members are using their own computers, Waltman wrote.
"Based on our review, we did not identify evidence that council members obtained otherwise inaccessible benefits by using the email system or their position," she wrote.
Guest: State courts could return to secrecy in cases
The Seattle Times: April 29, 2014
By: Kathy George and George Erb
...What if the public could not learn about settled cases? What if Washington courts returned to the days when defendants could buy secrecy, sealing files as a condition of settling?
The state Supreme Court is considering sweeping revisions to General Rule 15 that would make it easier to seal court records, especially when the parties settle before a judge or jury makes a decision. Under the proposed rule, the constitutional requirement for openness would apply to lawsuit records only if those records became “part of the court’s decision making process.”
Our Voice: Protecting public's right to know and its money tough balancing act
Tri-City Herald: March 31, 2014
Massive public records requests always leave us in a quandary.
With taxpayers bearing the burden of the costs of producing documents for voluminous requests and the workload taking a toll on staff time, a large request can be an unfair task.
But the public's right to government information is at the core of our system of democracy. Transparency and the right to know how public agencies are spending our money are vital to society's well-being. America's noble experiment in self-government fails when our public servants operate in secrecy.
How to balance our advocacy role for open records with the reality that sometimes these requests are unreasonable and filed for spite leads to many challenging editorial board discussions. How do we protect the real need for access to public information from those wishing to abuse the system for sport?
Fees for Tacoma's Click Cable rise quickly, analysis reveals
The News Tribune: March 30, 2014
By: Kate Martin
Bosses at Tacoma’s Click cable system have said for years that customers have to pay more every year in part because local broadcasters are demanding more money for the right to rebroadcast their channels.
What Click hasn’t revealed is how much it is paying those broadcasters that once delivered their signals for free, or how much those fees have gone up.
Now, an analysis by The News Tribune shows steep increases in the fees the city-owned network has paid in recent years to rebroadcast free, over-the-air television signals from the local affiliates for the major networks.
City says unintended data release could cost Click
The News Tribune: March 30, 2014
By: Kate Martin
More than a year ago, a Pierce County Superior Court judge said the public could not know how much money a city-owned cable network pays broadcasters because the charges are trade secrets.
Despite the court order stemming from that ruling, the city of Tacoma inadvertently released the details of Click’s payments to those broadcasters to a for-profit Florida company three times during the past year.
City leaders, told by The News Tribune earlier this month that the records existed on SmartProcure’s website, expressed surprise and moved to remove them. They said the release of the records puts Click at the mercy of broadcasters who might remove their signals or use the information to negotiate even higher fees.
Editiorial: State needs to shine more light on public records
The Spokesman-Review: March 20, 2014
Though you can’t always tell by looking outside, this is Sunshine Week, where open government practices are praised and continuing challenges are illuminated.
Any discussion of this issue in Washington state should begin with the key clause from the Public Records Act, passed overwhelmingly by voters in 1972: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.”
Public business is the public’s business. So if government officials ask why you want information or what you might do with it, tell them that’s none of their business. Nonetheless, state and local governments lobby the Legislature each year to make the law more convenient for them and less convenient for you. More than 300 exemptions have been adopted over the past four decades.
Open government forecast: Cloudy for Sunshine Week
The Olympian: March 18, 2014
The 2014 Legislature had several opportunities to make state government more open and accessible to the public. Sadly, it passed on most of them.
State lawmakers could have set an example for their congressional colleagues by approving a modest bill to improve campaign finance disclosure. Sen. Karen Fraser co-sponsored the bill, with strong bipartisan support, that would have better informed voters about who is funding the campaigns of elected officials and ballot measures.
Millions of dollars flowed into the state last year to fight statewide ballot initiatives and promote a higher minimum wage in the city of SeaTac, and it will again this fall. But voters don’t know who is behind this money, because it comes from nonprofit organizations that hide behind a social welfare faade that shields donors from public disclosure requirements.
And that wasn’t the only disappointment for open government advocates.
Karen Peterson: We like Sunshine Sunday and nearby getaways
The News Tribune: March 16, 2014
By: Karen Peterson
Happy Sunshine Sunday.
Sunshine Sunday was first declared in 2002 by a group of newspaper editors to promote open government.
As you know, we’re big fans of that concept, so we’re celebrating too.
Sean Robinson’s front-page story describes the challenges of keeping track of government business given all the new ways public officials can communicate. We understand the need to keep private business private, but we don’t need a new way for less scrupulous officials to hide conversations we should be able to see. We’ll follow this case as it winds through the courts.
Sides awair ruling in Pierce County cellphone case
The News Tribune: March 16, 2014
By: Sean Robinson
Does the public have a right to see Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist’s private phone records if they include work-related information?
On the other hand, does he have a legal right to keep the contents to himself?
The questions represent the core of two lawsuits filed in 2011 and 2012 that currently are parked at the Washington state Court of Appeals awaiting rulings.Read More>>
Technology deals a blow to open records
HeraldNet: March 16, 2014
By: Scott North
EVERETT — Those who worry about preserving access to Washington’s public records may one day look to Snohomish County for a case study of how easily common digital tools can be used to hide evidence of government misconduct.
They also had no way of anticipating the new forms of political mischief that would be made possible.
Jason Mercier of Washington Policy Center makes the case for remote testimony
Polycom: March 13, 2014
By: Meredith Lawrence
When important legislation is being discussed and debated in state legislature, it is essential that experts, stakeholders and other individuals be represented and have a voice so that well-informed decisions can be made.
State legislatures are located in state capitals so depending on the size of the state, an expert, stakeholder or citizen could be located hours away. This creates a situation where those set to testify in front of a state legislative body either have to travel long distances at their own expense and discomfort, or forgo having their voice be heard in the creation of new rules and laws.
Jason Mercier discussed this very issue in an article that he penned about his recent invitation to testify before Washington State’s House Open Government Caucus. On an invitation from co-chairs Rep. Pollet (D-46th Dist.) and Rep. Hawkins (R-12th Dist.), Jason – who works for the independent, non-profit think tank, Washington Policy Center – went in front of the caucus to discuss accommodating remote testimony and improving public notice process.
Coalition for Open Government seeks to improve transparency
Mercer Island Reporter: March 13, 2014
By: Celina Kareiva
Washington’s Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) hosted its annual conference at the Mercer Island Community and Events Center, drawing journalists, “citizen reporters” and a host of guest speakers to both reinforce the importance of access to public records and discuss the evolving policy around it. Michael Schwab of the Sunshine Committee, keynoted the event. The meeting came just as a new bill passed in Olympia to make sure government officials understand the laws regarding access to public records.
Particular attention was paid to an ordinance passed by Kirkland city council last year, which identifies public records as a fundamental city service, much like putting out fires. The ordinance, in effect this winter, establishes a budget for responding to records requests and has been closely watched by other local and state governments. Yet, each year more exemptions are tacked on, said Schwab, further constricting the Washington State Public Records Act RCW 42.56.
Editorial: TVW gives East Side valuable eye on Olympia
The Spokesman-Review: March 5, 2014
For want of $2.8 million, folks living east of Snoqualmie Pass may lose sight of the Legislature’s deliberations in Olympia.
Already, 20-year-old analog equipment operated by TVW is breaking down, and with it access to some committee meeting rooms where lawmakers do much of their work. Two cameras had to be removed from committee rooms in the last week to replace two on the floor of the House.
Of 43 cameras, only 38 still work.
As more cameras fail and cannot be repaired, TVW President Greg Lane warned legislators, more and more committee rooms will be out of sight of Washington citizens who have no other way of seeing and hearing for themselves what their representatives and senators see and hear from witnesses.
The cameras were rolling two years ago, for example, when Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke testified in favor of a bill that would have imposed a fee of $400 of anyone appealing land-use decisions to the Growth Management Hearings Board. He was there representing the Washington State Association of Counties, but his political foes and strong supporters of growth management jumped on his remarks.
The TVW tapes left Mielke little room when he subsequently tried to amend his comments.
Legislators have other priorities than new TVW equipment
The Seattle Times: March 5, 2014
By: Ashley Stewart
OLYMPIA – The state public-affairs TV network says it needs funding to continue covering the Legislature, but some lawmakers say they have other issues to worry about.
TVW, the state’s version of C-SPAN, covers legislative sessions, state Supreme Court hearings and more — on television and online. The network requested $2.84 million to upgrade equipment around the state Capitol, some of which have been around since 1995.
Neither house met TVW’s request in their original budgets. The Senate Ways and Means Committee later added the funding, but the House removed it when versions were combined.
State Rep. Hans Dunshee, a Snohomish Democrat who chairs the House Capital Budget Committee, said it’s not a priority.
“Right, the cameras don’t work,” he said. “But is that important versus things like flood management and mental health?”
Network president Greg Lane says it should be.
Funding for TVW repairs and upgrades cut from capital budget
Washington Policy Center: March 5, 2014
By: Jason Mercier
In just a few weeks the country will be celebrating "Sunshine Week," a time committed to celebrating the people's right to know about what their government is doing. Recent developments in Olympia, however, may put a damper on those celebrations.
While neither the House's or Senate's original supplemental capital budgets included requested funding to repair and upgrade TVW's equipment that enables it to provide coverage of the Legislature, the Senate did add the funding to its version sent over to the House after hearing testimony from TVW about the urgency of the situation.
The House, however, took a different approach despite also being urged by TVW to address the "crisis."
Council kept public in dark on Tacoma charter review finalists
The News Tribune: March 4, 2014
By: Kate Martin
A Tacoma City Council subcommittee might have violated the state Open Public Meetings Act when it selected charter review committee finalists outside of a public meeting.
If the selection process is challenged in court, the selection of the full charter review committee could be void, an expert in open meetings law said last week.
Fifty-two people volunteered to participate in the once-a-decade review of the city charter, essentially the city’s constitution. Nine were selected as automatic members of the charter review committee — one by each council member, with a chairman selected by the mayor.
The Government Performance and Finance Committee was charged with selecting another six members to complete the 15-member panel.
Disclosure Commission weighs disciplinary action against Spokane schools personnel
February 24, 2014
The Washington state Public Disclosure Commission on February 27 will consider disciplinary action against 33 people for allegedly using Spokane Public Schools facilities and equipment for political campaigns.
The draft disciplinary actions are the result of a commission staff investigation, which concluded that numerous people used school district equipment, classroom time, school events and staff to promote levy and bond measures, and a school board candidate.
Investigators found “approximately a hundred instances” in which school officials and employees “used public facilities to promote a ballot proposition or to assist a candidate’s campaign,” according to the agency’s final investigation report.
State law bars local elected officials and local government employees from using public facilities, staff and equipment on political campaigns, including ballot measures and candidate campaigns.
The investigation was in response to a complaint filed by Spokane parent Laurie Rogers. She used state public records laws to uncover evidence that raised questions about the taxpayer-supported school district’s participation in political campaigns.
Legislature makes hit, misses on open government
Yakima Herald: February 21, 2014
In 1972, Washington state’s voters approved an initiative that led to what is now the Public Records Act; with a 72 percent yes vote on Initiative 276, the electorate strongly stated a desire that government business be conducted in an open and transparent manner. Alas, the appeal of open government among the electorate doesn’t always transfer to our state’s elected officials.
Every year seems to bring an attack on openness in the Legislature, and this year is running to form. In the current session, a culprit is the curiously labeled Youth Opportunities Act, which is really an opportunity to keep information from the public. HB 1651, which last week passed the House 96-0, would seal records of juvenile convictions except for those of sex offenses or serious violent offenses like first-degree murder, first-degree arson or kidnapping. Examples of crimes that would be sealed include first-degree theft and burglary. The entire delegation representing Central Washington’s 13th, 14th and 15th districts voted in favor of it.
10:45 p.m. "public" hearing with no public testimony, surprised?
Washington Policy Center: February 14, 2014
By: Jason Mercier
Lawmakers work long hours on your behalf, sometimes late into the night. One of these instances occurred on Monday when lawmakers held a public hearing at 10:45 p.m. on HB 2244. Perhaps it was due to the late hour of the public hearing or the fact the bill wasn't listed on the committee agenda for the day/night, but no one showed up to testify on the bill.
Here was the reaction of the Chair to this fact.
The "solution" adopted? Further gutting the state's 4-yr balanced budget requirement (McCleary spending already exempted).
Time for Legislature to live by open government rules
Washington Policy Center: February 10, 2014
By: Jason Mercier
With policy cutoff behind us the list of living and walking dead bills (nothing is really dead till sine die) is being compiled. Among the proposals that didn't even receive a hearing, however, is a bill based on WPC's recommendation for the Legislature to truly provide Washingtonians the opportunity to participate in the legislative debate while also ensuring lawmakers live by the same open government rules the rest of the state's public officials operate under.
House committee approves Hayes' bill to protect public employees from ID theft
WA House Republicans: February 4, 2014
The House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved a bill today that would exempt public employees’ driver’s license numbers and identicard numbers from being released for public inspection and copying.
Prime sponsor of House Bill 2376, Rep. Dave Hayes, said public employees are at risk of becoming victims of identity theft because much of their personal information can be openly released through the state’s Public Records Act.
State Legislature can vote for open government
The Olympian: February 4, 2014
The Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) presented its Key Award to Gov. Jay Inslee last week. It’s a recognition given to individuals or groups who have done “something notable to further the cause of open government.”
Inslee deserved the award for announcing that he would not use the power of executive privilege to shield his office’s communication from disclosure under the 41-year-old Public Records Act (PRA). He is the first Washington governor to make such a public declaration.
The governor campaigned on this promise and reaffirmed it in October after a state Supreme Court decision said his office was constitutionally entitled to decline public records requests. The court’s opinion arose from a lawsuit filed by the Freedom Foundation to obtain certain records from former Gov. Christine Gregoire.
Judge rules sex offender data in Benton County not public information
Tri-City Herald: January 29, 2014
By: Tyler Richardson
A Tri-City judge ruled Wednesday the personal information of low-level sex offenders in Benton County is not public information and shouldn't be released to a Mesa woman.
Judge Bruce Spanner's ruling comes after more than a month of deliberation about whether the data should be released to Donna Zink.
Zink has no "legitimate interest" in it, Spanner wrote in his 13-page decision. The information, if released, would cause irreparable harm to more than 400 Level 1 sex offenders.
Spanner said the information is considered confidential under other state and federal statutes and therefore is exempt from release.
"There is no showing that the information requested is either relevant or necessary," Spanner wrote. "Our Supreme Court has determined that Level 1 sex offender registration is in most instances 'confidential' and that the public has 'no legitimate' interest therein because those offenders do not pose any threat to the community."
Speaker Chopp protects public's right to know
The Olympian: January 28, 2014
By: Kathy George
Here in Olympia, the heart of Washington state’s government, laws are made. Programs are created or scrapped. Billions of tax dollars are spent. Politicians come and go.
To find out how all of this works, and how it affects you, you need an open window to government. For more than 40 years, the state Public Records Act has been that window, allowing anyone to see what’s really going on in state and local government just by asking.
Are campaign promises kept? Who benefits from tax breaks? Is crime rising or falling? Which schools are most successful? Why? No matter whom you are or why you want to know, the Public Records Act requires “promptly” granting your records request so that you can find out information when it matters.
It might be very different if House Speaker Frank Chopp had not used his power to stop an assault on the Public Records Act last year. Under pressure from cities’ lobbyists to move House Bill 1128 to the floor for a vote, Chopp held the bill in the Rules Committee, preserving the right of all people to oversee government in a timely way.
Today, as the new legislative session once again highlights the importance of protecting the people’s right to know, Chopp will receive the Ballard-Thompson Award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government. The annual award recognizes outstanding dedication to the cause of open government during a legislative session.
Legislature focuses on open government reforms
Washington Policy Center: January 22, 2014
By: Jason Mercier
The people's right to know has received a serious shot in the arm this session with numerous open government bills under consideration. The Attorney General's proposals to require training of government officials have already received executive action in the House and public hearings in the Senate. Several bills have also been introduced to make more budget related information available online. Now come proposals to require the Legislature to provide more opportunity for the public to participate in the legislative debate and ensure the public records act applies to the records of the Governor and Legislature.
Here are some of the open government reforms that have been introduced:
Bill would require training of open records, meeting laws for public officials
Bainbridge Island Review: January 20, 2014
By: Christopher Lopaze
OLYMPIA - Lawmakers are considering a bill that would send public officials and employees to what amounts to open-records school.
House Bill 2121 would require public officials and employees to undergo training on open government laws under the state’s Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act.
When the public’s right to know is “stymied” by a public records officer, Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-Seattle) said, “it’s not a pleasant thing to deal with.” Pollet is the main sponsor of the bill, and advocated for a similar bill last year.
Supporters of the bill said violations are often inadvertent errors caused by a lack of knowledge, and the training requirement would help reduce unintentional infractions. Twenty two House lawmakers, including Rep. Sherry Appleton from the 23rd District, are sponsoring the bill.
It makes sense to train those who need to know
The Olympian: January 17, 2014
Attorney General Bob Ferguson has proposed common-sense legislation to reduce the tension between government entities and those who make requests for public records. The Legislature should pass it into law.
Ferguson’s bill (HB 2121/SB 5964) states the obvious: Those subject to the Public Records Act (PRA) should receive training on it, as well as the state’s Open Public Meetings Act and records management laws.
At the present time, neither law includes a mandate for training.
Bill would require training for officials in public records law
HeraldNet: January 17, 2014
By: Jerry Cornfield
OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers want to make sure those who must abide by the state’s public records law understand how to do that.
Backers of the bills hope mandating education on open government laws will curtail violations by officials and costly lawsuits against jurisdictions.
“We all too often see that they lack the training necessary to know the basic obligations” of those laws, said Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, sponsor of the House bill, at a hearing this week.
Missing public records and "harassing requesters"
Washington Policy Center: January 6, 2014
By: Jason Mercier
During the heat of the debate last year on HB 1128 and whether or not government entities should be able to sue citizens to keep from disclosing public records, the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) sent out a public records request to determine the extent of any problem facing local governments concerning compliance with the people's right to know.
That WCOG records request resulted in this ultimate public records response fail from the then Mayor of Coulee Dam:
My clerk has received a public records request from you and I have a problem with that. First of all, are you with the state of Washington or are you a non profit outfit? I know why you are doing this and HE won't get help this way. I am fed up with this kind of harassment and my clerk has a lot of work on her plate and can't take the time to play silly games. I will be in contact with my State Senator about this as soon as I get done here. Could you give me a list of all the other towns that have received a letter from you.....that is my records request.
Mayor, Quincy Snow
Coulee Dam, WA
The "HE" the former Mayor was referring to? The newly elected Mayor Greg Wilder.
King County Housing Authority settles public-records case
The Seattle Times: December 31, 2013
By: Emily Heffter
The King County Housing Authority has agreed to pay $24,300 to a resident who should have gotten public records she requested over the past two years, but didn’t. The resident, Cindy Ference, lives in a Shoreline apartment owned by the housing authority. Ference made 25 requests over two years for different documents. She got most of them, the agency said, but the authority did not give her three sets of documents about construction projects. The records should have been made public, said King County Authority Deputy Executive Director Connie Davis.
The housing authority already settled the first half of Ference’s lawsuit, which had to do with open meetings. The housing authority failed to advertise meetings that should have been public. That portion of the settlement didn’t include any money beyond legal fees, but the housing authority changed the way it publishes meeting notices, minutes and documents.
The National Freedom of Information Coalition in Columbia, Mo., paid for Ference’s lawsuit.State board rules in Island County records dispute
HeraldNet: December 26, 2013
By: Rikki King
COUPEVILLE -- Island County government officials trampled on state public records laws during their feud with the county sheriff's deputies guild, according to a Dec. 9 ruling by a state labor-management board. County commissioners were reviewing the ruling before deciding whether to file an appeal, Commissioner Jill Johnson said. The Island County sheriff's deputies, who serve Whidbey and Camano islands, have been without a contract since 2009.
Report Accents Ups, Downs of WA's Economic Climate
Social Capital Review: December 23, 2013
By: Matt Rosenberg
Every year Washington’s economic data unit takes a good look at where the state ranks nationally on more than 40 key performance measures, and the latest report card came out late last week. It shows that in 2012 Washington had the cheapest business electricity in the nation, the third cleanest drinking water systems, was fifth best on research and development spending, remained third in foreign exports, and was in the top quintile on per capita visits to state parks and recreation areas. But our performance lagged on unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation costs, unemployment rate, condition of interstate highways, and college-going rates. We could also do better on air quality. Overall, our state leans more toward the second-tier of five, than first, the report suggests.
Editorial: Washington high court ruling on police records emphasizes public interest
The Spokesman-Review: December 22, 2013
Open government received a boost Thursday when the Washington Supreme Court narrowed the parameters governing when law enforcement agencies can automatically deny public records requests. And it was a Spokane legal tussle that helped shaped that ruling.
The recent case stemmed from a confrontation between a Seattle man and an off-duty Seattle police detective. That legal wrangling was settled early this month, and it cost the city of Seattle $235,000. Fortunately, the high court decided to go ahead and issue its ruling, which sets an important precedent.
Public Records Act Report Emphasizes a Better Way to Resolve Disputes
MRSC Insight: December 20, 2013
By: Tracy Burrows
This week, the William D. Ruckelshaus Center issued to the State Legislature its Situation Assessment of Public Records Requests to Local Governments. In our September 25th post, “Is the Public Records Act Working?,” Joe Levan reported on the charge that the Legislature gave to the Ruckelshaus Center to develop recommendations for the future of the Public Records Act (PRA). The Center’s report contains few surprises.
The report’s findings were based on interviews with 35 representatives of the public, the media, and local and state governments, including our own Bob Meinig on the MRSC staff. The consensus of the group is that the principles of the PRA are sound and that the vast majority of requests under the PRA are reasonable. Where individuals differed were on issues around whether the PRA is working, how burdensome the PRA is for local governments, whether the penalties were rewarding enough, and why records are not always provided in a timely manner.
Mesa woman asks Benton County for emails concerning sex offenders
Tri-City Herald: December 19, 2013
By: Tyler Richardson
A Mesa woman in a statewide legal battle about the release of low-level sex offender information is asking Benton County to turn over 80,000 emails even if it takes two years to get them.
Donna Zink asked the county in September for all emails involving any denied requests for sex offender information, said Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Lukson.
County officials could only recall one request being denied. It was when the Prosser school superintendent wanted to know if any sex offenders were living near a school.
To find out if there were any other denied requests, Lukson said, county officials used keywords to search their email database. Last month, they determined the size of the request is larger than they initially thought.
Editorial: Legislature needs to comply with the Public Records Act
The Seattle Times: December 19, 2013
SPEAKER of the state House Frank Chopp last session wisely deflected a lobbying offensive by local governments, which sought the power to sue people who filed public records requests that these same bureaucrats considered abusive.
Situation Assessment of Public Records Requests to Local Governments
The William D. Ruckelshaus Center: December 13, 2013
By: The William D. Ruckelshaus Center
Public records lawsuit against county withdrawn
The Columbian: December 11, 2013
By: Stevie Mathieu
A Vancouver man withdrew on Wednesday a lawsuit he filed just one day prior that alleged Clark County officials ignored his public records request.
Ed Ruttledge’s lawsuit alleged that the county did not respond whatsoever to his May 31 request for documents related to why county commissioners hired state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to head the Environmental Services Department.
Ruttledge’s lawyer, Greg Ferguson, said Wednesday morning that Ruttledge has since discovered an email response he received from the county on June 10.
“The original email message was resident on a hard drive that failed and was later replaced,” according to a press release from Ferguson’s office.
The Columbian: December 10, 2013
By: Stevie Mathieu
A Vancouver man is suing Clark County for allegedly stonewalling a public records request he says would shed light on why county commissioners hired Don Benton to head the Environmental Services Department.
Ed Ruttledge says he submitted his public records request to numerous county officials on May 31, and he's yet to hear so much as a peep in return. According to state public disclosure laws, agencies have five days to respond to a public records request by either handing over the requested documents, denying the request based on legal exemptions, or by giving the person an estimated wait time for fulfilling the request.
"The email request landed in the in-box of half a dozen county employees, including the county commissioners and a county lawyer, yet not a single one of them felt compelled to act on it," Ruttledge's attorney, Greg Ferguson, said in a news release. Ruttledge's suit also seeks up to $100 in fines for each day the county ignores his request, as well as attorney fees, according to court documents filed Tuesday.Read More>>
Ex-aide to Reardon may face criminal tampering charge
HeraldNet: December 9, 2013
By: Noah Haglund and Scott North
EVERETT -- One of Aaron Reardon's aides could face a criminal evidence-tampering charge after an investigation found evidence he tried to scrub data from a laptop used in a scheme to harass the former Snohomish County executive's political enemies. The county-owned laptop was provided to Kevin Hulten, 34, for his work as Reardon's legislative analyst. On March 11, just before county staff collected the laptop as part of a King County Sheriff's Office investigation into his activities, Hulten allegedly used a data-wiping program to scrub the device. While a lot of information was lost, Hulten's digital fingerprints still were recovered from the laptop and from other county-owned computers — including those on desks within Reardon's former office suite.
Attorney General makes good call in hiring new open government ombudsman
Union-Bulletin: December 2, 2013
Open government is an expectation to most folks who live in Washington state. Government at the state and local levels is generally transparent in dealings with the public.
But that just doesn’t happen. It occurs because open government laws have been established through a voter-approved measure and a long line of government officials have made public access to government a priority.
The latest to carry on the tradition is Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who was elected to the post last fall.
This week Ferguson announced he filled the vacant open government ombudsman and made the job a full-time position in the Attorney General’s Office.
Ferguson hired Nancy Kreier, a lawyer for the state Public Disclosure Commission, to replace Tim Ford who did the job — and did it very well — since 2007.
Public access, so pesky
HeraldNet: November 27, 2013
The largest lobbying force in Olympia is comprised of folks hailing from cities, counties and other local governing bodies. They converge on the capitol waving wish lists filled with everything from capital projects, operating programs, special exemptions and local taxing authority.
Lately, local governments have complained they are being assailed by troublemakers who abuse the state's Public Records Act. They describe city halls and agency offices stretched to the breaking point by massive, malicious, money-wasting requests for documents.
Tax exemptions, transparency, and a hotel bill
The Washington Policy Center: November 6, 2013
By: Jason Mercier
I was supposed to be on the road to Olympia this morning for a Thursday House Finance Work Session to discuss tax exemptions and WPC's recommendation to eliminate targeted tax exemptions and instead replace the B&O tax with a revenue neutral single business tax.
With the Governor calling a Boeing Special Session for Thursday at 9 a.m., however, the House work session has been understandably canceled. Since this all transpired with less than 24 hrs notice, however, I missed the opportunity to cancel my hotel room in time to avoid been charged.
So what's the big deal? This is the perfect example of the need for our proposed legislative transparency reforms and providing the opportunity for remote testimony.
While short notice of hearings is tough for even those living in Olympia, those that live a great distance from the Capitol have little to no chance to make it to a public hearing in time to testify.
Lawmaker answers state high court's 'executive privilege' ruling
WA State House of Representatives: November 1, 2013
Citizens and the press would be guaranteed access to public records from thegovernor’s office, under an amendment to the Washington Constitution that state Rep. Gerry Pollet will propose in the 2014 Legislature.
Pollet’s constitutional right-to-know amendment responds to the recent “sweepingstate supreme court decision granting the governor ‘executive privilege’ to refuse to disclose public records.” He likened the state high court’s decision to the so-calledexecutive privilege claimed 40 years ago by former President Richard Nixon.
“We must establish such protection in law for this fundamental right of the public to know what our state government is doing – and who is influencing our governor,” Pollet said. “The amendment will prevent this wrongful use of executive privilege as a way to avoid disclosure of records. I believe such an amendment is vital to protecting democracy here in our state of Washington.”
Does 'executive privilege' ruling challenge public's right to know?
The Advance: October 31, 2013
At least one lawmaker is taking great exception to the Washington State Supreme Court’s recent “executive privilege” decision. In fact, state Rep. Gerry Pollet is researching the idea of a “right-to-know amendment” to the Washington State Constitution, guaranteeing access to public records from the governor’s office.
The court’s decision grants the governor executive privilege to refuse to disclose material that Pollet maintains is the very principle of public information. Pollet calls the state high court’s executive-privilege decision “a potentially sweeping assault on the rights of citizens and the media to obtain the public records needed to make informed decisions and to conduct informed news-reporting.”
The Wenatchee World: October 26, 2013
Our governor is entitled, by the constitution, to operate in a shroud of secrecy, the state Supreme Court has ruled. Our governor is due to the same black cloak of “executive privilege” granted President Richard Nixon as he tried to block disclosure of his secrets. The state’s long tradition of open government, the Public Records Act approved by voters requiring records be open unless specifically exempt, none of that applies to the state’s executive. Should a citizen ask to view a document, the governor may “invoke a gubernatorial communications privilege” in response. The governor need not provide further justification. The citizen will have to go to court to prove a particular need, expensive and unlikely.
Elect future governors that pledge transparency
The Olympian: October 24, 2013
Noting that Washington’s constitution delegates supreme executive power to the governor, the state Supreme Court has found the right to withhold information among those executive privileges. It’s a technically sound decision that nevertheless undermines the intent of the Public Records Act.
Passed as a citizen’s initiative with a 72 percent yes vote in 1972, Washington’s Public Records Act set a national precedent for other states.
Editorial: Public Records Act should apply to governor
The Spokesman-Review: October 24, 2013
An extraordinarily deferential Washington Supreme Court handed former Gov. Chris Gregoire a victory last week, one that should be as short-lived as possible.
The justices, with only one dissent, established a broad executive privilege that allows a governor considerable discretion in deciding what documents are public, and what he or she can withhold.
Gregoire had denied the libertarian Freedom Foundation access to documents regarding negotiations to replace the Alaska Way Viaduct in Seattle, a biological opinion on Columbia River fish, and medical marijuana. Executive privilege, she said, assured candid communications related to fulfillment of her constitutional duties.
Peter Callaghan: A bad open government ruling 14 years in the making
The News Tribune: October 20, 2013
By: Peter Callaghan
I wasn’t as shocked as some last week when the state Supreme Court found that governors have a constitutional exemption from disclosing certain documents to the public.
Since I’d been denied records by a former governor who cited executive privilege, a decision backed up by a past attorney general, I assumed there was a strong likelihood the court would side with those who felt executive privilege existed.
What was disturbing though, was the court’s refusal to narrow the privilege that was created by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving President Richard Nixon and his attempt to hide recordings made in his office. The release of the Oval Office tapes was the final nail in Nixon’s coffin, politically speaking at least.
Spokane County commissioners' urban growth session broke law, lawsuit says The Spokesman-Review: October 19, 2013
By: Mike Prager
Spokane County commissioners violated the state’s open public meetings law by holding a closed-door session with a state official last spring to consider expansion of the county’s urban growth area, a new lawsuit says.
The Center for Justice, a public-interest law firm, filed a complaint Friday in Spokane County Superior Court seeking to reverse any deliberations or decision reached during the May 13 meeting. The suit also asks for $100 civil penalties against each of the county’s three elected commissioners.
Editorial: Sunshine's Sunset?
The Dalles Chronicle: October 19, 2013
The back rooms of government may no longer be smoke-filled, but they are becoming even more exclusive than in the past.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled Oct. 17 that the state’s governor can claim “executive privilege” as a reason to withhold documents from the public.
Executive privilege hasn’t been among the hundreds of exemptions to Washington’s sunshine laws — until now, that is.
Tacoma candidates less than open with Washington Coalition for Open Government
The News Tribune: October 15, 2013
By: Peter Callaghan
I guess I could understand one or two candidates failing to complete the questionnaire that seeks their views on open government issues facing the state.
The Washington Coalition for Open Government's questionnaire is one of many that candidates receiving during campaign season.
But of the 15 Tacoma candidates the coalition sent invitations to, just two replied. They are Tacoma Port Commissioner Connie Bacon and Civil Service Board candidate Janis Clark.
Spokane Public Schools to pay $130,000 in public records dispute
The Spokesman-Review: October 9, 2013
By: Jody Lawrence-Turner
Spokane Public Schools will pay a Spokane woman with a history of needling officials $130,000 after failing to comply with a 2009 public records request.
Laurie Rogers is a private tutor, frequent critic and describes herself as an advocate for transparent government.
She had filed a request for all “promotional materials on the 2006 and 2009 bonds and levies.”
The district failed to fulfill her request for records when it took a narrow definition of her inquiry and made missteps.
“We don’t do promotional materials. We do informational,” said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent. “We quickly gathered all the materials we thought complied and gave them to her. What we didn’t realize was our archivist only went back to 2008, and we would have needed to ask each individual employee (for documents going back to 2006).”
The district also failed to include an index to list legal justification for redactions within the public documents.
Updated: Noted inmate Allan Parmelee dies at Washington State Penitentiary
Union-Bulletin.com: October 3, 2013
By: Andy Porter
WALLA WALLA -- A prison inmate who gained fame through his use, and abuse, of the state public records access laws died today.
Allan Parmelee, 58, was pronounced dead about 6:24 a.m. at the Washington State Penitentiary. Walla Walla County Coroner Richard Greenwood said the preliminary cause of death was natural causes. An autopsy is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Thursday.
According to a 2009 Seattle Times article, Parmelee was serving 17 years for firebombing the cars of two lawyers. During his time in custody, he filed hundreds of public records requests demanding judges', lawyers' and correctional officers' personnel records, photos, addresses, work schedules and birth dates. According to news reports, he once threatened to tear out a court reporter's fingernails.
Parmelee won a legal victory in 2010 when the state Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Corrections must pay his attorney's fees after DOC officials cited him under a criminal libel law, passed in 1869, and gave him 10 days in isolation.
Inslee pushes tax break to win Boeing 777X project
Crosscut.com: October 2, 2013
By: John Stang
As Gov. Jay Inslee urged tax breaks for Boeing, a Washington legislative task force on winning future Boeing 777X aircraft work for the state began its work Wednesday in secret.
The task force's first meeting was closed of the public. A Crosscut reporter was escorted out of the meeting in Everett's Comcast Arena while being told by an Inslee administration official that it could be kept closed because a majority of the House or Senate was not present. Washington legislative committee and task force meetings have been routinely open to the public. A climate change task force involving legislators and Inslee also has been meeting in public.
Inslee and several legislators were present in the aerospace task force meeting. The task bipartisan force, which Inslee reportedly picked, has six House members and six Senate members.
Is the Public Records Act Working? Can it Be Improved? Let's Find Out.
MRSC Insight: September 25, 2013
By: Joe Levan
An important effort is currently underway that I think merits the particular attention of local government officials and employees throughout Washington state. This collaborative effort relates to exploring improvements to our state’s Public Records Act (PRA), chapter42.56 RCW.
for the Ruckelshaus center to collaborate with local governments, the media, and representatives of the public regarding public record requests made to local government. The center shall facilitate meetings and discussions and report to the appropriate committees of the legislature.
How-to forum on open government
PT Leader: September 18, 2013
By: Scott Wilson
On Sept. 1, 2013 the New York Times revealed that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had been collecting data on millions of phone calls from and to Americans through a secret program called the Hemisphere Project for at least six years.
The program, said the news story, had been ongoing for a far longer time than the recently disclosed National Security Agency (NSA) programs of domestic web and phone traffic tracking.
Justice Department Raises the Standards for the Freedom of Information Act, One Step at a Time
Center for Effective Government: September 24, 2013
By: Gavin Baker
Oversight of how federal agencies implement the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is critical to ensuring the public has robust access to government records. The Justice Department's Office of Information Policy (OIP) recently issued its annual assessment of how well agencies are processing FOIA requests and announced plans to substantially improve its assessment measures next year. The more robust assessment tool will better hold agencies accountable for providing information to the public.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, anyone may request information from a federal agency on critical topics like food safety, compliance with environmental standards, and special interest influence in government decision making. The act is the cornerstone of government transparency. Agencies are required by law to promptly provide the information requested, unless it is specifically exempted, such as classified national security information.
Washington coalition recognizes Kirkland for open government
Kirkland Reporter: September 23, 2013
The Washington Coalition for Open Government recognized the Kirkland City Council during the Sept. 17 meeting for its recent adoption of records retention rules and procedures.
The Coalition’s board of directors voted unanimously to present its Key Award to the city of Kirkland in recognition of the city’s adoption of its comprehensive and innovative new public records ordinance and rules.
The Council adopted a public disclosure ordinance and approved updated Public Records Act rules on July 16 to further define the city’s process to help ensure compliance with the Public Records Act and to prevent excessive interference with other essential functions of the agency.
Our Voice: Open government needs full-time legal advocate
Tri-City Herald: September 18, 2013
It's a good week for open government in Washington.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Monday that he will hire a full-time ombudsman to focus solely on the state's sunshine laws.
"In the interest of promoting open, transparent government, I have decided to invest in a full-time open government ombudsman position that serves the public, media and government agencies on open government issues," Ferguson said in a statement. "Government is better served when the public is informed and able to engage in our democracy -- and government agencies better serve the people when they fully understand and follow open government laws."
Should marijuana locations be shielded from public?
The Olympian: September 17, 2013
By: Jordan Schrader
Should the public be allowed to know the locations of state-licensed marijuana companies?
Information about the licenses to be handed out next spring will be public, the state Liquor Control Board says, and likely posted on the board's website.
A local official on the state Sunshine Committeeraised the possibility Tuesday that disclosure could present problems.
State auditor to review port's handling of oil terminal meeting
The Columbian: September 16, 2013
By: Aaron Corvin
The Washington State Auditor's Office will examine the Port of Vancouver's decision to bar the public from a discussion of a controversial oil terminal as part of its next regular review of the port in April 2014. Meanwhile, the port says it has employed a new procedure to ensure it complies with the state's open public meetings law.
The investigation into the port's compliance with open public meetings law will occur during "our upcoming annual financial, single …and accountability audits of the port," Thomas Shapley, deputy director of communications for the auditor's office, said Monday.
Judge orders Marysville to pay Cedar Grove $143,000
HeraldNet: September 10, 2013
By: Bill Sheets
EVERETT -- The city of Marysville was ordered Monday by a judge to pay more than $143,000 to Cedar Grove Composting for violations of the state public disclosure law.
Appeals court voids $650K award to woman in public-records case
The News Tribune
By: Adam Lynn
A state appeals court panel has ruled that now-retired Pierce County Judge Frederick Fleming was wrong to award $650,000 in damages and fees to an abuse victim who sued the Department of Social and Health Services to get investigative records.
In a decision released Tuesday, the Division II panel ruled some of the records sought by Amber Wright were not subject to the state's Public Records Act and that others were not improperly withheld by DSHS because Wright's request for them was too vague.
High court rules to release psychological report in Seattle slayings
The Seattle Times: September 5, 2013
By: Sara Jean Green
The state Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously agreed with the public release of a redacted forensic psychological evaluation that found Dr. Louis Chen competent to stand trial on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder for the August 2011 deaths of his partner and their young son in Seattle.
Chen’s defense team had sought to have the competency report sealed — and advocated for a rule to seal all competency reports involving criminal defendants, according to the defense brief written by Seattle attorney Todd Maybrown and submitted to the Supreme Court last November. Chen’s defense argued that failure to seal Chen’s competency report would jeopardize his privacy rights.
Battle Ground school board admits "violating trust" over Bria departure
The Columbian: August 27, 2013
By: Susan Parrish
The Battle Ground school board acknowledged Tuesday morning that it violated the public’s trust in its handling of the departure of Superintendent Shonny Bria.
Bria left in June with a severance package of more than $400,000 that had been negotiated behind closed doors two months earlier. The board kept the agreement a secret, even going so far as to tell staff and the public that Bria would get no payouts other than her accumulated sick leave. A state accountability audit is expected to determine whether board members violated the state’s public records and open meetings laws.
Ford out as open-government ombudsman
The Olympian: August 22, 2013
By: Jordan Schrader
The job in Washington that is supposed to keep a watchful eye on government — from within government — is vacant.
Open-government ombudsman Tim Ford left the state attorney general’s office last week to take a job in the state Senate.
Ford’s former supervisor is handling the duties for now. But Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he will replace Ford and might even restore the ombudsman to a full-time job, as it was before it fell victim to budget cuts.
Battle to restrict public records requests heats up
HeraldNet: August 22, 2013
By: Jerry Cornfield
Those looking for a more transparent government are increasingly relying on public records to make it happen. They hope the more documents they obtain the clearer their view of what's really going on behind closed doors in school districts, city halls and county buildings. But there are those throughout the public sector convinced some of these Washingtonians are abusing the Public Records Act. An alliance of government forces -- whose members often are the targets of the records -- tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to rewrite the act to make it easier to repel requesters whose motives they question. With the help of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, they pushed a bill to make it easier for public agencies to block requests and to limit the time spent compiling records.
Seattle-area Housing Authority institutes transparency reforms
National Freedom of Information Coalition: August 6, 2013
COLUMBIA, Mo. (August 6, 2013) – A public housing agency serving suburban Seattle, Wash., will institute a sweeping series of transparency measures as a result of a lawsuit made possible by the inspired persistence of an engaged public housing resident and a litigation grant made under the Knight FOI Fund. Cindy Ference, a tenant in a King County Housing Authority complex for senior and disabled people in Shoreline, Wash., sued the housing agency over open-meetings violations in April after learning it had set up a shadow entity to carry out some of its programs without public oversight. Ms. Ference and her attorney, Katherine George, reached a settlement agreement with the Housing Authority to ensure that the public can learn about programs of the agency as well as its shadow entity, a nonprofit called Moving King County Residents Forward.
Appeals Court: state Licensing should be fined for wrongfully
withholding records from prison inmate
The Olympian: July 31, 2013
The state Court of Appeals has ruled that the state Department of Licensing wrongfully withheld records from a prison inmate in 2009 and should pay penalties to the man for its violation of the Public Records Act.
At issue was Derek Gronquist’s request under the Public Records Act for the business license application filed for Maureen’s House Cleaning, a business. Gronquist was held at the prison in Monroe at the time of his July 2009 records request.
Editorial: Protect state's Public Records Act
The Seattle Times: July 20, 2013
DISCREETLY tucked into the 487-page state operating budget is a proviso requiring the William D. Ruckelshaus Center at Washington State University to study “potential harassment of state employees.”
The alleged source of that harassment? Citizens using the state Public Records Act.
That act, passed in the post-Watergate heyday of open government, is the strongest buttress for clean, transparent local governance. But it is under attack, once again.
During the legislative session, local governments rolled out a handful of anecdotes in which trolls “harassed” public officials by abusing the Public Records Act.
Editorial: Real impact of ballot's advisory votes murky
The Spokesman-Review: July 18, 2013
The ballot for this off-year election got a lot fatter Tuesday when Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson determined the Legislature enacted five tax increases that should be subject to advisory votes.
This will be the second go-round for the advisories, which have all the weight of an elephant in outer space. No matter how overwhelmingly voters reject tax legislation after the fact, results do not overturn the law.
But the outcome, according to initiative impresario Tim Eyman, puts legislators on notice. The votes of each one on each piece of tax legislation must be included on the ballot so they can be held to account. That remains to be seen.
Times' Mike Carter wins public records award
The Seattle Times: July 13, 2013
Seattle Times criminal-justice reporter Mike Carter has received a Key Award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government for his perseverance in pursuing the public release of a May Day 2012 memo that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) initially claimed did not exist.
Carter, 58, said the award, presented Friday, came “right out of the blue.”
In May, the SPD admitted it violated the state Public Records Act by withholding from The Times an internal memorandum about the department’s response to the violent demonstrations of May Day 2012. The department agreed to pay $20,000 to the newspaper and its attorneys to avoid a lawsuit.
No public records reform in 2013
AWC: July 11, 2013
Relief from harassing and abusive public records was one of AWC’s major legislative priorities for 2013. We worked with a number of local government associations representing counties, ports, school districts, and others on a legislative approach targeted to providing local government with a tool to protect taxpayer resources against abuses of the public records act. All those involved are committed to preserving open and transparent government but are concerned that a few individuals with dubious intentions are using this important law to waste resources and harass local governments. Open government proponents continue to have a lack of appreciation for the harm done by and the significant costs from harassing requests.
Editorial: Officials should make effort to follow Public Records Act
The Spokesman-Review: July 11, 2013
Last session, the Washington Legislature killed the latest effort to relax the Public Records Act. But such bids are like zombies, so we expect it to rise up and stalk lawmakers again.
House Bill 1128 addressed the purportedly pervasive problem of government workers being harassed by serial records requesters. There are occasional examples of this scattered around the state. At the same time, officials resist the available remedies that would mitigate the alleged harassment.
One problem with the bill was that agencies were left to determine which requests were legitimate. A prime example of why this was a bad idea occurred this week. The town of Coulee Dam received a request for some records from the Washington Coalition of Open Government, which is in the middle of a project seeking to determine the level of harassment and how agencies are responding to it. At present, complaints about the high costs of filling requests are merely anecdotal, but that hasn’t stopped municipalities from lobbying the state for relief.
Apparently not knowing whom he was dealing with, Mayor Quincy Snow replied:
“My clerk has received a public records request from you and I have a problem with that. First of all, are you with the State of Washington or are you a non profit outfit? I know why you are doing this and HE won’t get help this way. I am fed up with this kind of harassment and my clerk has a lot of work on her plate and can’t take the time to play silly games. I will be in contact with my State Senator about this as soon as I get done here. Could you give me a list of all the other towns that have received a letter from you … that is my records request.”
Battle Ground school district may have violated state law
The Columbian: July 11, 2013
By: Susan Parrish
Battle Ground Public Schools appears to have violated the state's Public Records Act by withholding a severance agreement with its embattled former superintendent.
The school board members signed an agreement with Superintendent Shonny Bria on April 29, withheld the document for almost two months, and when The Columbian and The Reflector made specific public records requests about Bria's compensation, the district denied that such a record existed.
"When it's signed by both parties, it then becomes a public document," said Matt Miller, deputy state auditor of the Washington State Auditor's Office.
Miller said he will be looking at the Battle Ground case.
The school board's agreement with Bria "is on my radar," said Tina Watkins of the state auditor's office. Watkins noted that she's read the newspaper articles about the Bria agreement and has kept copies in the district's file.
Public info belongs to the people
Union-Bulletin: July 10, 2013
By: Editorial Board
When a King County Superior Court judge ordered the city of Shoreline to pay $538,555 in penalty and legal costs to resolve a seven-year lawsuit over public records, many taxpayers raised their eyebrows.
After all, the city officials who used bad judgment won’t pay the bill, the people will. And that thought tends to bring out feelings of anger aimed at those who sue to obtain public records.
That anger is misguided. The majority of those seeking public records are doing so for legitimate reasons — whether news media or citizens — and are ultimately ensuring the public has appropriate access to information from the people’s government.
Public officials, such as those in Shoreline, are not doing their jobs when they take unreasonable stands to block the release of information to protect themselves or the government from humiliation or worse.
In the Shoreline case, the information was being sought by Beth and Doug O’Neil after the content of an email criticizing the Shoreline City Council was read aloud at a meeting and incorrectly attributed to Beth O’Neil. She wanted to know who wrote the email and requested a copy.
Clallam hires attorney for embattles county official Sheila Roark Miller
Peninsuladailynews.com: July 2, 2013
By: Rob Ollikainen and Paul Gottlie
PORT ANGELES — Clallam County has hired an attorney to represent its community development director in matters related to ethical complaints about her conduct as an elected official.
The three commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved a professional services agreement with the Law Office of Kenneth W. Bagwell Inc. of Silverdale to represent department Director Sheila Roark Miller against claims she illegally altered, destroyed or backdated public records.
The county will pay Bagwell $250 per hour — or $2,000 for an eight-hour day — for the conflict representation and $300 for each court appearance through the end of this year, unless the parties agree to terminate the agreement sooner, to represent Roark Miller.
There is no cap on the contract.
Just to clarify: Dancing with wolves a winner; driving in cars a loser
The News Tribune: July 2, 2013
By: Peter Callaghan
It’s not that I want to reduce the complexities of a series of Washington legislative sessions that lasted 153 days. It’s just that I’m obligated to do so by the unwritten law of oversimplification.
The War on Cars – Was Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn setting transportation policy for the Majority Coalition Caucus in the state Senate? Why else would the caucus stand in the way of a 101/2-cent gas tax to raise billions of dollars to pour miles of new concrete throughout the state? Traffic is likely to get so bad folks might actually think about taking the bus just when there are fewer buses to take.
Peace in Our Time – Forget the Arabs and Israelis. Give up on GOP Sens. Don Benton and Ann Rivers. Gay couples and that florist in Richland? Not a chance. But thanks to the thoughtful work of our legislators, there is a glimmer of hope for peace between livestock and mammalian apex predators. Washington State University is getting $600,000 to search for nonlethal means of ending the ongoing conflict between cows and wolves.
Too busy for an open government
Smarter Government Washington: June 26, 2013
During my time as Attorney General, my office emphasized the importance of open, transparent government. That included advising state agencies and local governments on how to meet their requirements under the Public Records Act.
Open government isn’t just about accountability, it’s also about giving citizens confidence in their government and its actions. A false political crisis shouldn’t distract any government agency from completing one of its most important functions.Read More>>
Politics is what happens when the public isn't watching
The Bellingham Herald: June 25, 2013
By: Ralph Schwartz
It takes a sharp political reporter to get to the real stories about what happens in the halls of government.
As the state Legislature rushes to pass a 2013-15 budget before a partial government shutdown on Monday, July 1, the Washington Policy Center sensibly wonders, will we know everything that’s in the final budget?
Is it too cynical to wonder whether someone might slip something into a document, hundreds of pages long, that would escape notice before final passage? I don’t think so.
There was confusion around the final version of a bill of particular local interest in the rush on June 13 to pass this bill. Senate Bill 5296 reforms how toxics cleanup money is spent, and local leaders expect it will accelerate cleanup of the Bellingham waterfront.Read More>>
You know what's in the pending 2013-15 budget, right?
The Washington Policy Center: June 25, 2013
By: Jason Mercier
With a 2013-15 budget deal "imminent" one of the remaining questions left to be answered is whether lawmakers and the public will be provided adequate time to review the details before a vote on final passage occurs. We believe at a minimum the time provided for budget transparency should be at least 24 hrs.
New Washington state budget due on June 1 under state law
State Budget Solutions: May 16, 2013
By: Jason Mercier
With it being all quiet on the Western Legislative Front, there is one date to keep in mind concerning the ongoing state budget negotiations: June 1.
While there are rumors that lawmakers may wait for the June 18 Revenue Forecast to see if the recent improvement in state economic activity can help bridge the budget divide, state law may make waiting that long a bit tricky.
According to RCW 43.88.080 (emphasis added):
"Adoption of budget. Adoption of the omnibus appropriation bill or bills by the legislature shall constitute adoption of the budget and the making of appropriations therefor. A budget for state government shall be finally adopted not later than thirty calendar days prior to the beginning of the ensuing biennium."
Senators may meet via teleconference during special session; remote testimony options for citizens next?
WA Policy Center: May 15, 2013
By: Jason Mercier
While there isn't much news coming out of Olympia since the Special Session started on Monday there is one development that could hold huge implications for citizens going forward. At a media availability on Monday Senate Republican Leader Sen. Schoesler said that Senators may meet via teleconference to help keep cost down for members living out of the area.
Should these teleconference meetings for Senators be successful they could help grease the skids for efforts to provide citizens remote testimony options.
Court official temporarily blocks release of key video in assault case against SPD officer
Seattle Times: May 15, 2013
By: Steve Miletich
In a ruling Monday, a court commissioner found that Seattle police Officer Chris Hairston would be harmed if patrol-car video were disclosed to the news media before he can argue it shouldn't be made public at this stage of the case.
A King County court commissioner on Monday temporarily blocked the release of patrol-car video considered to be key evidence in an assault case brought against a Seattle police officer.
Redact or Withhold? Will the State Supreme Court's New Disclosure Flow Chart Be Useful?
Foster Pepper: May 10, 2013
Yesterday was a busy day for public records issues, as the Washington Supreme Court issued two detailed decisions relating to the State Public Records Act. In Ameriquest Mortgage Co. v. Office of the Attorney General, the Court held records that include personal financial information protected under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 (GLBA) must be withheld from disclosure under Washington's PRA, even if the protected information could be redacted. On the other hand, in Resident Action Council v. Seattle Housing Authority, the Court held that records including information protected by certain federal housing regulations must be disclosed under Washington's PRA, after making appropriate redactions.Read More>>
Supreme Court considering cutting records access
Herald: May 10, 2013
By: Eric Stevick
EVERETT -- An advisory committee to the state Supreme Court is considering proposals that could curtail public access to some court records.
One proposal would prevent permanent online access to court records in cases when a suspect makes a preliminary appearance but no criminal charges are ever filed.
Another would allow defendants who've been acquitted or whose cases have been dismissed to seek a hearing before a judge to get the actual paper court records sealed. There is nothing being proposed that would automatically seal documents. A person would still need to file a motion with the court and prove that their case is different from others.Read More>>
Washington's health insurance exchange doesn't have California's problem with transparency
Puget Sound Business Journal: May 9, 2013
By: Valerie Bauman
California's health insurance exchange is fraught with secrecy, thanks to the way that state built its response to federal health insurance reform. But Washington state doesn't have that problem.
The Associated Press published an exclusive report Thursday detailing how California's law grants the state authority to conceal how the state spends money when handing out the lucrative contracts required to build a state exchange.
Public Hearings -- How Much Notice Is Required?
MRSC Insight: May 8, 2013
By: Jim Doherty
MRSC routinely receives calls on this issue, and as with many issues, the answer is: “that depends.” There are many public hearings that cities and counties are required by statute to hold – for instance, when a city or county enacts a moratorium or interim zoning control, adopts the annual (or biennial) budget, adopts a comprehensive plan, etc. Often the statutes that require a public hearing specify precisely how much notice must be given to the public and how the notice is to be provided; sometimes they do not.
To assist with looking up public hearing requirements, MRSC has compiled two handy lists of the many statutes that require cities and counties to hold public hearings: Actions for Which a Public Hearing Is Required in Washington Counties; and Actions for Which a Public Hearing Is Required in Washington Cities and Towns.
Editorial: Bring transparency to King County Housing Authority's shadow agency
The Seattle Times: May 4, 2013
LAST November, the King County Housing Authority quietly granted a 30-year lease on 509 of its apartment units to an obscure nonprofit agency called Moving King County Residents Forward.
The deal happened in an open meeting, as required by the state Open Public Meetings Act, since the housing authority is a public agency. But since then, getting information about how this nonprofit operates has been difficult, since nonprofit agencies aren’t required to operate with the same level of transparency.
That is especially odd because the housing authority created Moving King County Residents Forward. The organizations share identical governing boards, and the housing authority’s deputy director is the nonprofit’s registered agent.Read More>>
Search of KCHA official's browser shows work isn't a priority
The Olympia Report: May 2, 2013
By: Jeff Rhodes
Whoever it was who said you can’t fight city hall obviously knew nothing about public records requests.
Bothell resident Todd Hodgen knew better when he filed an information request last month with the King County Housing Authority for some basic financial information and, in turn, found himself the object of a background search.
An information technology specialist himself, Hodgen subsequently noted that Mark Abernathy, the Housing Authority’s public records officer, had visited his LinkedIn page, indicating he had run a Google search on Hodgen’s name after receiving the information request — a clear violation of state law.
“Public records are just that — public,” said Tim Ford, open government ombudsman in the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. “Anyone is entitled to request any information they please and the agency may not discriminate based on the identity of the requester. No one can be treated differently.”
Juvenile-court records could be sealed
The Seattle Times: April 27, 2013
Open records put youth at a disadvantage
As prime sponsor of House Bill 1651, I was disappointed to see The Seattle Times editorial assert that HB 1651 is unconstitutional [“Editorial: Don’t seal all juvenile-court records,” Opinion, April 22].
Until 1977, all juvenile records were closed to the public without any constitutional issue. Currently, records for certain types of cases are already kept confidential without being deemed in violation of the constitution.
Under HB 1651, juvenile-court proceedings would remain open to the public, satisfying the constitutional requirement that justice be “administered openly.” Furthermore, records would remain available to the courts and law enforcement so that public safety can be protected. Juvenile records would still be available for research purposes to ensure government accountability. They just would not be sold to credit bureaus, as juvenile arrest and conviction records currently are, and would not be put on the web.
On The Record
KBTC: April 25, 2013
In this edition of Northwest Now, On the Record: The battle over your right to know, members of the Washington Coalition for Open Government talk about their efforts to protect citizen's right to examine the records generated by all levels of government under the state's Public Records Act. Washington has one of the strongest open records in the nation, but in forty years since the act was passed, more than 500 exceptions have crept into the law with many cities, countries, agencies and interest groups pushing for more. What can be done to protect your right to know? WACOG President Toby Nixon, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, and News Tribune investigative reporter Sean Robinson will discuss.
Go to video>>
Editorial: Don't seal all juvenile-court records
The Seattle Times: April 21, 2013
THE Legislature is on the verge of passing a bill to automatically seal preconviction court records of less-serious juvenile offenders. The bill, which has passed the House 97-0, did not meet the bill cutoff in the Senate but could still be revived. It is ill-advised and unconstitutional.
The Washington Constitution, Article 1, Section 10, says: “Justice in all cases shall be administered openly ...” The words, “in all cases,” mean what they say and there is a reason for them.
As Toby Nixon of the Washington Coalition for Open Government said in legislative hearings, it has been learned over the centuries that secret tribunals cannot be trusted. Nor can a system of justice be held accountable in aggregate; you have to see specific cases.
Editorial: Legislature racing past participation by public
The Spokesman Review: April 18, 2013
Open government is almost meaningless if the door is 300 miles away.
Each January, the Washington Legislature assembles in Olympia to do the people’s work; as best the senators and representatives know it.
For the next four months, Eastern Washington lawmakers must rely on their staffs, email, snail mail, telephone calls and occasional visits home to keep them in touch with constituents. But keeping up with fast-moving developments in the Capitol, let alone contributing to the discussion of major legislation, is nearly impossible for those constituents, even for addicts of TVW, the state television network that does an excellent job of broadcasting committee hearings and other Olympia activities.
Olympian calls for more legislative transparency
Washington Policy Center: April 16, 2013
By: Jason Mercier
Looks like editors at The Olympian decided to declare April 16 as "Legislative Transparency Day." The capital city newspaper ran two editorials today highlighting our recommendationsto improve the public's access to the legislative process.
The first editorial calls on lawmakers to provide the opportunity for Washingtonians from the far corners of the state to utilize remote testimony options:
When citizens want state legislators to hear their opinions, nothing beats coming to Olympia and testifying in person. When lawmakers sense the passion and force behind public testimony, gleaned from observing body language, it can impact their decision-making.
But when lawmakers schedule public hearings on short notice, traveling to Olympia poses a burden for some, especially those on the eastern part of our state, and for almost everyone except registered lobbyists
The Legislature could mitigate those issues and improve public access to government by employing modern teleconferencing.
Title-only bills skirt constitution
The Olympian: April 16, 2013
By: The Olympian Editorial Board
Among the bills still alive in this legislative session, seven deal with the important topics of education, health care, human services, natural resources and the ever-popular but head-scratching “State Government Act.” We would love to offer an opinion on each of them, but there’s a problem: We don’t know anything about them.
Virtual access to Capitol would benefit citizens
The Olympian: April 16, 2013
By: The Olympian Editorial Board
When citizens want state legislators to hear their opinions, nothing beats coming to Olympia and testifying in person. When lawmakers sense the passion and force behind public testimony, gleaned from observing body language, it can impact their decision-making.
Brian Sonntag inducted into "Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame"
Washington Policy Center: April 12, 2013
By: Jason Mercier
Former State Auditor Brian Sonntag has been inducted into the "Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame."
According to a press release by the National Freedom of Information Coalition:
Brian Sonntag, who retired earlier this year after serving five terms as the elected State Auditor in Washington state, has been selected for induction into Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame.
The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) jointly announced Sonntag’s selection as the 2013 inductee today. The formal induction ceremony will take place at Saturday’s luncheon during the 2013 FOI Summit, held this year at the Renaissance Arts Hotel in New Orleans, La., May 17–18.
The State Open Government Hall of Fame is a joint venture by SPJ and NFOIC. It was developed by leaders in both organizations as a way to recognize long-term contributions of individuals to open government in their states.
Sonntag, the 13th individual chosen for the honor since the Hall’s inception in 2003, is the second inductee in a row from Washington and only the third elected official to be included.
Induction into the State Open Government Hall of Fame recognizes 'long and steady effort to preserve and protect the free flow of information about state and local government that is vital to the public in a democracy.' The award is intended to honor individuals—living or dead—whose lifetime commitment to citizen access, open government and freedom of information has left a significant legacy at the state and local level.
The 2012 inductee was Toby Nixon, President of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.
It's Records and Information Management Month!
Washington Secretary of State: April 3, 2013
By: Brian Zylstra
When it comes to event themes, April is just full of them. According to one website, there are at least two dozen different themes, including National Garden Month (good reminder to mow your lawn and pull some weeds) and National Humor Month (Ha!).
But did you know that here in Washington and many other states, April is also Records and Information Management Month? Here is this year's official state proclamation, signed by Gov. Inslee.
RIM Month is designed to promote the professionals working in this field and to emphasize the importance of organizing and maintaining records in any format – paper, electronic, microfilm or magnetic.
Crime News From Inside Seattle PD
Seattle Journalism Commons: March 27, 2013
By: Patrick Fancher
Crime in the Emerald City may not pay, but it is forging a career for local reporter/blogger Jonah Spangenthal-Lee. The lifelong Seattle resident found his niche in journalism almost by accident, while writing for the alt-weekly paper The Stranger as an intern from North Seattle Community College.
"I still don't really know how I ended up on the crime beat," Spangenthal-Lee said in an e-mail interview. "The first few stories I wrote at The Stranger all happened to be cop or crime-related, and I started making contacts and figuring out the cops/court system through trial and error."
The 4-month internship led to a job covering the city's crime beat, and for years he gained valuable experience and established many solid contacts reporting at crime scenes. After parting ways with The Stranger, he wanted to continue crime reporting, but knew it would be difficult landing a position in a newsroom.
Washington's Troublesome Blank Bills
Tax Foundation: March 22, 2013
By: Elizabeth Malm
There's a quirky way to introduce legislation in the Washington State legislature and that's via something called a "title-only bill." A title-only bill is exactly what it sounds like -- a piece of legislation that has a vague title but no body. There are currently 26 title-only bills filed in the legislature, all introduced by Representative Ross Hunter (D-District 48), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Senator Andy Hill (R-District 45), Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Title only bills use to circumvent state Constitution
Washington Policy Center: March 18, 2013
By: Jason Mercier
Not only are title only bills (essentially blank pieces of legislation) not the most transparent way to introduce changes to state law (or perhaps too translucent) but they are used by lawmakers to circumvent the state Constitution. This is why it is disappointing to see 26 title only bills (13 in the House by Rep. Hunter and 13 in the Senate by Sen. Hill) introduced today. Budget chairs typically introduce title only bills so they "don't get stuck" at the end of session.
Bill to block public records requests dies
Herald Net: March 16, 2013
By: Jerry Cornfield
OLYMPIA -- An alliance of government forces has failed to secure help from state lawmakers in dealing with hefty and costly public records requests.
A House bill allowing public agencies to use the courts to block requesters and to limit the time spent compiling records died when it did not come up for a vote by a Wednesday deadline.
Representatives of cities, counties, school districts and prosecuting attorney offices told lawmakers in January that some requests are intended to harass and intimidate employees. House Bill 1128 provided a path to getting a judge's permission not to fill those.
Handling Vague & Complex Public Records Requests:
Developing Your Plan of Attack
The Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC): March 2013
By: Sara Di Vittorio & Denise Vaughan
Public records requests run the gamut from the simple request for a copy of a police report to the complex request for any and all emails sent or received by an individual with no timeframe limitation. While it may be easy to wrap your mind around the search for records responsive to those easy requests, it can be quite daunting to face a seemingly limitless request. This article focuses on strategies for dealing with seemingly impossible requests that are either too vague or too complex to make responding a simple process.Read More>>
Shining a light on 'public' in public records
Yakima Herald: March 14, 2013
This week is Sunshine Week, which fittingly with the season’s longer stretches of daylight is about shining a light on what the government does and why. The effort started in 2002 as a way to foster a discussion about the need for open government — especially the public’s access to government records. The American Society of News Editors took the lead in this initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.
Newspapers are involved in Sunshine Week, as are participants from broadcast and online journalism. But it doesn’t stop there. Civic groups, libraries, nonprofits and schools all have scheduled events that foster a discussion about the need for open government.
Online public records access a mixed bag
Columbia Basin Herald: March 13, 2013
By: Tiffany Sukola
Living in a digital age has its benefits.
The internet puts the information a user wants virtually at their fingertips. People have immediate access to scores from the latest game, the stock market and the news, among a myriad of other information available on the web.
But what about public records? Can the average citizen pull up minutes from the latest city council meeting just as easily as they could their local weather?
The answer to that question, unfortunately, depends, said Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government. While federal and state agencies often provide access to digital records on their websites, Nixon said smaller local agencies might not offer that convenience.
Government operates best in the light of day
The News Tribune: March 13, 2013
This week is Sunshine Week, when newspapers and civic watchdogs remind public officials that their paramount duty is to the citizens, not to their own self-interest. That duty is best carried out openly and transparently, not hidden behind closed doors and secret documents.
That reminder is badly needed, if action in the Legislature is any indication.
Proposed bills that would have made state and local government more transparent have already died. Now the Washington Coalition for Open Government is just playing defense against several bills designed to obstruct the public’s right to know.
Defend public records law
HeraldNet: March 12, 2013
You monkey with language, and a bill in the Legislature quickly betrays its stated mission. (Beware the intersection of marketing and public policy.) Lipstick on a goat is still a goat. That's the case with HB 1128, a bill dressed in pro-public-records language that will simply obstruct access to public records.
The irony? This marks the beginning of National Sunshine Week, a time to noodle and celebrate access to public information.
Sunshine week celebrates Washington's right to open public records
The Bellingham Herald: March 12, 2013
By: Peggy Watt
Nearly fifty years ago a middle-school student and her friends set a major free speech case into motion by wearing a black armband to school to protest the Vietnam war.
They subsequently protested their suspension from school. And eventually won: In 1969 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Tinker vs. Des Moines School District that neither "students or teachers shed their Constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
Handling Vague & Complex Public Records Requests: Developing Your Plan of Attack
MR&SC: March 2013
By: Sarah Di Vittorio and Denise Vaughan
Public records requests run the gamut from the simple request for a copy of a police report to the complex request for any and all emails sent or received by an individual with no timeframe limitation. While it may be easy to wrap your mind around the search for records responsive to those easy requests, it can be quite daunting to face a seemingly limitless request. This article focuses on strategies for dealing with seemingly impossible requests that are either too vague or too complex to make responding a simple process.
We believe in open government in all contexts
The News Tribune: March 10, 2013
By: Karen Peterson
Today is a holiday as patriotic as the Fourth of July. It is Sunshine Sunday and the beginning of Sunshine Week, both of which promote open government.
The American Society of News Editors, of which I’m a member, helped launch Sunshine Week in 2005. “Though created by journalists,” the ASNE website states, “Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why.”
Questioning what our government is doing and why has led The News Tribune to some interesting places in recent weeks.
Reporter Sean Robinson asked those questions as he conceived of his story on today’s front page. He knew the state had cut funding for mental health treatment. He knew people with mental illnesses had committed sensational crimes in our community over the past year.
Courts, in secret
The Wenatchee World: March 9, 2013
By: Editorial Board
Washington is a state where open government is the norm, and open public records a fundamental fixture in law. This is, or should be, especially true in the court system, where open justice is a constitutional requirement.
But last week the state House voted to require a large share of our justice system to operate in complete secrecy, out of the public eye, closed to scrutiny, the results of legal process kept beyond an impenetrable barrier.
Seattle Police blogger Jonah Spangenthal-Lee honored by Coalition for Open Government
The Seattle Times: March 9, 2013
By: Jonathan Martin
Jonah Spangethal-Lee, the Seattle Police Department’s blogger-in-residence, is being honored at Saturday’s Washington Coalition for Open Government convention for his witty pursuit of government transparency.
A former crime journalist, Spangenthal-Lee energized the SPD blog with posts such as “Marijwhatnow,” the Seattle Police’s guide to now-legal marijuana. The Coalition is applauding his approach, which he summed up this way: "If there's information we can give to anyone, we should give it to everyone."
Sun rising in House Rules Committee?
Washington Policy Center: March 9, 2013
By: Jason Mercier
Tomorrow (March 10) marks the beginning of National Sunshine Week - a time dedicated to celebrating the importance of the people's right to know and the need for strong open government laws. Judging from rumors in the House Rules Committee, the sun may continue to shine bright on Washington's landmark public records law. The word is Speaker Chopp has placed a leadership hold on HB 1128 (Regarding local agencies' responses to public records requests), keeping the bill from going to the House floor before Wednesday's cutoff date (March 13). HB 1128 was sent to the Rules Committee nearly a month ago on February 12.
House votes to seal most juvenile court files
The Olympian: March 8, 2013
By: Jimmy Lovaas
The state House moved Wednesday to largely reverse a 36-year-old law making juvenile court files public, drawing fire from open records advocates.
The proposal, which passed the House unanimously and now heads to the Senate for consideration, would require most juvenile offender records to be sealed. The only exception would be for youths found guilty of serious violent offenses, some sex offenses and arson.
Under current law, offenders can petition a court to have their record sealed, but only under certain circumstances.
Op-ed: Don't let local governments gut the Public Records Act
Special to The Seattle Times: March 7, 2013
By: Katherine George
FOR 40 years, Washington's Public Records Act has been a window for anyone to see what's going on in state, county and city governments, schools and other local agencies. As a recent example, this landmark law helped The Seattle Times uncover troubles leading to Rob Holland's resignation from the Port of Seattle Commission.
The bad news is: Our local governments are fighting hard to weaken the act. And some state legislators are championing the cause of scaling back the public's right to know.
Do you want to know how your tax money is spent, how well a program is working, or whether an elected official is meeting your expectations? Records can tell stories that you will never hear from news releases.
Keeping access to public records
Columbia Basin Herald: March 1, 2013
By: Editorial Board
Americans have many freedoms that are the envy of other countries, including freedom of speech, religion, the press, equal justice and the right to bear arms.
Another right Americans have is access to public records generated by state, county and federal government agencies. Requesting and receiving public records help keeps people informed and provides checks and balances for the government.
It is why we wanted to make you aware of the following three pieces of proposed legislation being considered by state legislators.