Open Government News

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.

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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.

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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.

So why would anyone care about the changes proposed by HB 2244? As noted here by staff, if adopted without amendment it would blow a big hole in the state's 4-yr balanced budget outlook.

The "solution" adopted? Further gutting the state's 4-yr balanced budget requirement (McCleary spending already exempted).

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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.

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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 2376Rep. 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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Legislation moving through the House and Senate would require elected and appointed officials to receive training on the Public Records Act and Open Meetings Law within months of taking office.

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.

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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:

Dear Allison,
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Situation Assessment of Public Records Requests to Local Governments
The William D. Ruckelshaus Center: December 13, 2013
By: The William D. Ruckelshaus Center

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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.

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Records for Benton's hire prompt lawsuite
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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Secrecy endowed

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Updated: Noted inmate Allan Parmelee dies at Washington State Penitentiary 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.

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Inslee pushes tax break to win Boeing 777X project 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. 

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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.

Earlier this year, the state legislature, as part of enacting the state operating budget for 2013-15, enacted ESSB 5034. In relevant part (see Section 607(3)), ESSB 5034 allocates funds:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Everett composting company last year sued Marysville in Snohomish County Superior Court over the city's withholding of emails between it and a consultant. In an unusual move, Judge Richard T. Okrent also ruled that the city should have disclosed emails related to Cedar Grove that were sent internally at the consulting firm, Strategies 360.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Clallam hires attorney for embattles county official Sheila Roark Miller 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

Commissioner Pro Tem Eric Watness ruled that the dashboard-camera video should not be disclosed to the news media until a King County Superior Court judge hears arguments May 30 on whether the recording should be released.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Shining a light on 'publi' 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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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."

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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.

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We believe in open government in all contexts
The News Tribune: March 10, 2013
By: Katen 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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Regarding watchdogs, gadflies and online public records

Kitsap Sun: February 28, 2013
By: Chris Henry

Today I wrote a story on a bill inspired by the Port of Manchester. The bill would require port-related measures to appear only on general election ballots, when election costs are lower. If you remember, the port incurred significant cost when a measure to reduce port commissioner terms from six to four years, submitted by petition, appeared on the April 2012 special election ballot. Manchester resident Dave Kimble, who collected petition signatures, had planned for the measure to run at the general election, but confusion over filing dates triggered the special election and the extra cost.

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520 Bridge mistakes have already cost taxpayers $100M February 27, 2013
By: Tracy Vedder

SEATTLE -- Washington's Department of Transportation may be admitting its mistakes with the 520 Bridge but it's you, the taxpayers, who will wind up paying for those mistakes. 

The KOMO 4 Problem Solvers sued the state, and won, to get information about how much those mistakes will cost us. After digging into the public records, we've discovered the total is already well over $100 million.

"Clearly, this is beginning to spiral out of control," said Washington Policy Center's Vice President Paul Guppy, an organization that advocates for taxpayers on issues of public policy.

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Legislative public notice for bill hearings starts to slip

Washington Policy Center: February 26, 2013
By: Jason Mercier

Up to this week the Legislature had been doing a decent job of adhering to its rules that require a five-day public notice before a bill is heard in a hearing.

In fact, earlier this year I was quoted in a Senate press release expressing my encouragement:

"The transparency goals outlined by the Senate majority are a step in the right direction. Though it is still early in the session, should the Senate hold firm to the five-day public notice requirement, provide access to substitute and draft bills in advance of public hearings, avoid votes on 'title-only' bills and open up more committees to public access, it will be a positive development. We are still hopeful that meaningful legislative transparency reforms will be enacted into law but are encouraged to see the Senate's transparency goals on display today."

Unfortunately the discipline to the five-day public notice requirement had its first major breakdown in both the House and Senate this week.

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Seattle Times Executive Editor Talks Pay Wall And Public-Records Requests

KUOW News and Information: February 26, 2013
By: KUOW Producer

The Seattle Times announced this week that they would be instituting a pay wall, meaning that online readers will soon have a limited amount of free access to the website. Ross Reynolds talks with Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman about the soon-to-be-implemented pay wall, and what he thinks of a Washington bill that would impose limits on public-records requests.

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Bill Aims To Limit Amount Cities Spend On Public-Record Requests

KUOW News and Information: February 25, 2013
By: KUOW Producer

Leaders of some cities in Washington state say public-records requests take a big bite out of their already strained budgets. A new bill in Olympia aims to fix that. It would limit the amount of time and money cities in Washington would have to spend on public-records requests. Ross Reynolds talks with the bill's prime sponsor, Representative Dean Takko.

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A sunshine bill that should never see the light of day

The News Tribune: February 24, 2013
By: Peter Callaghan

How do you know when a politician is getting ready to restrict public access to government records? When they say how much they support public access to public records.

That was the pattern during a recent hearing in Olympia on a bill to give local governments the right to drag their constituents into court to keep them from getting otherwise public records.

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Bill takes open records law in wrong direction

The Olympian: February 19, 2013

The Legislature has a golden opportunity to restore public confidence in Washington's political system by leaving the doors of government open. State lawmakers should not succumb to pressures being exerted by some cities and counties that want to restrict the public's right to know.

Lawmakers can start by killing HB 1128, which attempts to address concerns by public agencies about the time spent fulfilling requests for public documents.

The author of the bill and those lawmakers who signed on in support are clearly uninformed about the relief provisions that already exist in the Public Records Act.

To address burdensome requests, any public agency can produce the requested records in installments and even cancel the remainder of a request if an installment isn't claimed or reviewed.

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Aaron Reardon Goes Nixonian; Allegations of Digital Harassment, Surveillance of Political Rivals Surface
Seattle Weekly: February 15, 2013
By: Ellis E. Conklin

Aaron Reardon may have stepped in it again -- or at least his political operatives have.

The Everett Herald is out with a real barn-burner, revealing that staff members of the Snohomish County Executive might be linked to a series of online attacks and anonymous public records requests designed to harass and conduct surveillance on Reardon's political rivals.

One of the targets is Anne Block, a take-no-prisoners blogger in Gold Bar, who has been a thorn in Reardon's ass for well over a year. Her blog, the Gold Bar Reporter, during Reardon's 2011 re-election campaign, accused him of using taxpayer money for a trip with a mistress. A month later, a county employee, Tamara Dutton, came forward to admit that she traveled with Reardon in pursuit of an affair on county trips.

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Editorial: Legislators shouldn't weaken public's right to know
Seattle Times Editorial: February 14, 2013

Allowing public agencies to block public-records requests they consider harassing undermines the spirit of open and transparent governance.

"THE people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. 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. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created."

Those are the opening lines of the Washington State Public Records Act, which voters overwhelming approved in 1972 amid the Watergate scandal. Its premise is simple: Sunshine is the best disinfectant against government corruption and overreach. It is the single biggest reason Washington has a reputation for clean government.

Since then, more than 300 exemptions have accumulated, allowing public agencies to withhold everything from health records to information about ginseng growers. Yes, ginseng growers.

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Pasco considers fast track for small records requests
Tri-City Herald: February 12, 2013
By: Michelle Dupler

Pasco officials estimate they're spending more than $100,000 per year in staff time responding to voluminous public records requests, but hope the creation of a public records "express lane" will make responses more efficient and less costly.

Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel told the city council during a workshop Monday that the city clerk once spent three or four hours per week on public records requests, but now spends about 36 hours per week.

And that doesn't count the time spent by staff in other departments that may need to respond with documents, Strebel said.

He compared the 17 requests that came in during December 2011 and January 2012 to the 60 requests the city has seen in the past two months.

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State Rep. Takko looking to shield agencies from costly records requests
The Daily News: February 4, 2013
By: Tony Lystra

Longview state legislator Dean Takko has introduced a bill (HB 1128) that would allow government agencies to avoid releasing public records if they can prove the task of compiling them is too expensive.

Takko, a Democrat who heads the House Local Government Committee, said the bill is intended to ease the burden of complying with frivolous records requests that eat up hours of manpower and tens of thousands of dollars. Many of these requests, Takko said, are intended to harass agencies rather than encourage open government.

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Public records and their burden

The Wenatchee World: February 2, 2013

The point of the state’s critical Public Records Act is that government does not decide what the people should know or not know about it. The law’s oft-quoted preamble states the principle — the public has not surrendered control of the agencies that serve them. They do not give public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know, or not know. The records of government are public, and must be available on request unless specifically exempt.

In the 40 years since its passage some public agencies have been working to turn that law inside out. Someday they could succeed. In this legislative session they could take a step closer to the goal.

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Open government needs a vigilant champion

The News Tribune: February 1, 2013

When it comes to being as open with citizens as required by state law, government doesn’t always get it right.

One thing it is doing right: employing a person whose sole job is to increase openness whenever possible. That’s the open-government ombudsman in the state Attorney General’s Office, a post created in 2005 by former Attorney General Rob McKenna and held since 2007 by Tim Ford.

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Senator led fight to bring open government to Web

The Olympian: January 29, 2013
By: Walter Neary

As the Legislature steams along with its current cast of characters, we all hold memories of many fine people who have participated in the past. What they have done to benefit our state will live on in very concrete ways, such as better access to open government.

On Wednesday, the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) will honor former state Sen. Bob Morton with the first Ballard/Thompson Award for advocacy for open government. Morton, a Kettle Falls resident, served in the Legislature for 21 years until he resigned in December. Morton had served the 7th Legislative District since 1991, including two terms in the House of Representatives. He had served in the Senate since 1995.

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Public Agencies Declare War on Washington's Public Records Act

Graham & Dunn: January 27, 2013
By: Judy A. Endejan

This month, irrespective of whether there might be a factual basis for public agencies' grumbling about the Public Records Act, the Washington Legislature introduced House Bill 1128 that could effectively gut a citizen's ability to obtain public records.

It is an understatement to say that public agencies dislike Public Records Act (PRA) requests submitted by citizens under RCW 42.56. More and more agencies like to point to "abuses" of the PRA, such as those by prison inmate Allan Parmelee or by a Gold Bar attorney who submitted PRA requests allegedly forcing the City of Gold Bar to the brink of bankruptcy. In fact, the Washington Legislature dealt with Mr. Parmelee's situation by adopting RCW 42.56.565, which allows agencies to enjoin releasing public records to persons serving criminal sentences like Mr. Parmelee. With respect to the Gold Bar situation, the Seattle Weekly recently published the back story to the dispute that places PRA "abuse" in perspective, because of the Peyton-Place-like nature of Gold Bar's government. Click here for the Seattle Weekly article.

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Local governments have been listening to you at their pleasure

Kitsap Sun: January 23, 2013
By: Steven Gardner

When I covered the city of Bremerton and watched the council ask for public comment before consent agenda items, I thought it was a good-will gesture. Turns out I was wrong, not that it wasn’t something councils did not have to do, but in thinking councils had to do that any time. They don’t. They can make whatever decision they want and don’t have to bother with the two or three minutes time they give you to testify.

The only exceptions are items dubbed “public hearings,” which happen mostly for land use issues, according to Roger Lubovich, Bremerton city attorney.

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Country halts funding to economic development council

The Columbian: January 22, 2013
By: Aaron Corvin, Eric Florip and Stephanie Rice

In two shots across the bow of groups that support the Columbia River Crossing, Clark County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke, both Republicans, halted funding to the Columbia River Economic Development Council and changed funding to the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council from an annual to quarterly basis.

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New Bill Aims to Restrict Access to Wash. State Juvenile Records

KUOW.ORG: January 22, 2013
By: Jamala Henderson

A new bill will be proposed this week in the Washington state Legislature that aims to limit access to the criminal records of juvenile offenders.

Juvenile criminal offense records have been open to the public in Washington state since 1977. Proponents of the bill say that limiting access to such records will give rehabilitated youth offenders a better chance at reintegrating into society. But critics of the idea say these juvenile offense records should remain open to the public.

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Senator Murray and Tom trade barbs over GET

The Seattle Times: January 18, 2013
By: Katherine Long

Tom, who described the Guaranteed Education Tuition program as a “Ponzi scheme” during a phone interview Friday, said it would be “fiscally irresponsible” for the state to continue to take GET investments. He defended the way he polled members for a final vote, which occurred via email on Dec. 31, and said the procedure was given the OK by the Senate’s attorney.

Murray wrote that “while it may technically be within your legal authority as the Chair of the Advisory Committee to email committee members on the final day of the calendar year and ask for their input on a proposal that was never properly vetted in a public forum, your actions certainly do not follow the spirit of transparency and open government for which the State of Washington and the State Senate are known.

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Anderson to receive award for protesting meeting

Go Skagit: January 15, 2013
By: Kate Martin

Sedro-Woolley Mayor Mike Anderson will receive an open government award next week for walking out of a meeting he said was violating the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.

The Washington Coalition for Open Government announced the Key Award for Anderson on Monday. WCOG President Toby Nixon will present the award to Anderson on Jan. 23 during the Sedro-Woolley City Council meeting.

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Coaltion calls on lawmakers to adopt legislative transparency reform

Washington Policy Center: January 14, 2013
By: Jason Mercier

A coalition of good government, media and business groups have signed a letter encouraging state lawmakers to adopt the Washington Policy Center's proposed legislative transparency reforms.

The letter was delivered to lawmakers today on the first day of the 2013 Legislative Session.

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2013 state Legislature has shot at needed reforms

The Tri-City Herald: January 9, 2013

When the Legislature convenes Monday, the Senate will be run by a bipartisan caucus created when two members of the Democratic Party joined minority Republicans to form a hybrid majority.

The move fascinates political wonks, but it's only meaningful if the power-sharing arrangement results in some fundamental changes in the way the Legislature conducts the people's business.

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Brian Sonntag leaves big shoes to fill as state auditor

The News Tribune: January 8, 2013

State Auditor Brian Sonntag is a big guy, but that’s not the only reason his successor has his work cut out for him if he hopes to fill his shoes.

A Democrat from Pierce County, Sonntag has been at least as popular among Republicans because of the nonpartisan way he’s run his office the last 20 years and his laser-like focus on government accountability.

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Toby Nixon Interview with Mike Siegel on the Genesis Comm. Network

Genesis Comm. Network: January 7, 2013
By: Mike Siegel

For the Mike Siegel Show archives, click here.

Listen to the Interview (Hour 3) >>

Brian Sonntag: He's seen good, bad, ugly in government

The News Tribune: January 7, 2013
By: Jordan Schrader

In 34 years in public office, Brian Sonntag has been a witness to government at its best and worst. He became Pierce County auditor at age 26, then state auditor in Olympia, where he has spent two decades trying to root out government waste and improve practices. But he says he’s also seen examples of government agencies and employees doing their work well and with pride.

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Agenda for action in 2013

The News Tribune: January 6, 2013

Ensuring that government business is done in plain sight is crucial to the public welfare. The voters’ ability to make informed decisions is a foundation of democratic self-government.

Public officials evade scrutiny in many ways – such as holding meetings with minimal public notice, deliberating behind closed doors and manufacturing new exemptions to open records laws. Regimes of secrecy are prone to corruption, arrogance and self-serving decisions.

The state Legislature has been remiss in not operating under the same public disclosure rules that apply to local governments.

Washington’s incoming governor, Jay Inslee, has the opportunity to run a more open administration than his predecessor, Chris Gregoire. Her expansive notion of executive privilege, especially, has kept important internal documents hidden from view.

When disclosure decisions come down to judgment calls, public agencies should always err on the side of openness.

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Commit to transparency

The Olympian: January 4, 2013

The Olympian once again calls on state lawmakers to adopt government reforms that bring more transparency and public involvement to their decision-making.

Newspapers and better government groups from around the state have long been advocates for transparency reform on behalf of the citizenry. In this era of public mistrust of politicians there are three concrete actions legislators could take to help restore public confidence in their actions.

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Lack of transparency in state legislature

KUOW: January 3, 2013
By: Jason Pagano

Last session, Washington state legislators introduced some "title only" bills into committee — essentially blank legislation with the details to be filled in later. They also held hearings on some bills with only two hours public notice, violating the intent of their own rules. Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center tells us why he wants to see more accountability in Olympia through greater legislative transparency.


Columbian: Legislators must regain public confidence by emphasizing transparency

Washington Policy Center: January 2, 2013
By: Jason Mercier

The Vancouver Columbian has re-issued its call for state lawmakers to adopt much needed legislative transparency reforms reflecting our recommendations. From the Columbian editorial:

When Washington's Legislature convenes Jan. 14, attention will be focused on the state Senate's unique majority coalition caucus, created when two Democrats agreed to support Republican leaders, who in turn appointed committee chairs equally from the two parties. In the House, where Democrats will remain in control, most news stories will focus on yet another budget deficit and how smoothly state representatives can work with the strange new power scheme in the Senate. Already, abundant analyses have explored what exciting decisions may or may not transpire this year in Olympia. Unfortunately, far too little attention has been focused on the public's right to know. For the sake of voters who hired them and constituents for whom they work, wise legislators will correct this attention deficit and make sure transparency becomes a hallmark of this year's session . . .

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To view news from the 2010 archives, click here.

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