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Saturday, July 7, 2007

Spokane County Tells AG's Office to Take a Hike on Jail Visit Records

"Identities of people who visit inmates in the Spokane County Jail will remain secret for now, after a deputy county prosecutor refused this week to honor an attorney general's request to disclose them. ... That interpretation is too narrow, said Tim Ford, an assistant attorney general with the Washington Attorney General's Office. The statute in question notes that operators of a jail shall maintain a public registry, Ford said. It also requires that some inmate records remain private, but it does not define either those records or the registry. ... 'Coming in the front door is a public act,' Ford said, adding separately: 'I would err on the side of saying they should be disclosed.'"

Local governments, especially in the Spokane area, have a real problem with the Public Records Act. They don't like it and seem to think it's a "west side" law that doesn't apply to them. They have two choices: (1) amend the law through legislation or initiative, or (2) secede from the State of Washington. Disobeying the law is not an option.

This will probably get settled the expensive way, wasting thousands of tax dollars in the process. Now that the Spokesman-Review has filed a records request for the information--and the Spokesman will sue government at the drop of a hat when government breaks the law--we suspect that the County will either back down or lose in court.

Kudos to Attorney General Rob McKenna and Tim Ford. It isn't easy to call the Prosecutor's Office and tell them they are wrong. Local governments often roll their eyes and sneer that being for open government is politically expedient. Really? If open government is so politically popular, why aren't the elected Spokane County Commissioners falling all over themselves to release public records?