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Friday, August 17, 2007

"Darth Vader" to Chair Sunshine Committee--Original Posting

The law creating the Sunshine Committee allows the Governor to pick the chair of committee. What an opportunity for the Governor to show her commitment to open government.

Or not.

Governor Gregoire stunned the open-government community by picking controversial Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr to chair the Sunshine Committee. Carr's client, the City of Seattle, is withholding massive portions of public records showing misconduct by Seattle Police Department personnel. These very controversial withholdings are described by the Seattle P-I in their "Undue Influence" series. These are the misconduct records that every single other jurisdiction provided in response to the 270 or so public records requests the P-I sent. In fact, Tom Carr's client, the City of Seattle, might get sued by the President of the Seattle City Council (!) for violating the Public Records Act. There's more: Tom Carr represented the City of Seattle in perhaps the most destructive Public Records Act case to date, Hangartner v. City of Seattle. Here's another item: the City of Seattle was sued by the ACLU to get other police records and Tom Carr's office defended the City.

This is the person to chair the Sunshine Committee?

Tom Carr is called "Darth Vader" by Bill Will, the General Manager of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association. WNPA is a key player in the open-government community—and uses a term like "Darth Vader" to describe the new Chair of the Sunshine Committee. Madam Governor, this is not good.

The Governor has a legitimate interest in appointing people to the Sunshine Committee with diverse viewpoints. She has four appointments and selected two pro-openness Committee members along with a pro-government member (other than Tom Carr). So, in fairness to the Governor, appointing a second pro-government member is perfectly appropriate; that would be two pro-openness and two-pro government picks. Fair enough. But there are plenty of fair-minded and knowledgeable pro-government people she could have picked. (We won't say who we think they are or they might get in trouble with their government clients for being respected by og-blog. Seriously.) Given that there are numerous potential people to fill a pro-government seat on the Committee, did the Governor really need to pick perhaps the most disliked and ultra-pro-government public records figure in the state? Isn't that a poke in the eye to the open-government community?

It would be like if a committee were formed to look into the illegal destruction of government email—and Karl Rove was picked as the chair. Or, from the other side, what if a committee were formed to look into the illegal smuggling of classified materials from the National Archives in a person's socks and underwear—and Sandy Berger was picked as the chair? A sexual harassment committee chaired by Mike Lowry? You get the idea.

The Governor doesn't exactly have a good reputation on open-government issues. She blew this opportunity to change that image. Big time.