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Monday, September 3, 2007

Gov. Gregoire Won't Release Records About "Sunshine Committee" (!) -- UPDATED

This is truly amazing.

The Associated Press reports that Gov. Gregoire will not release records showing who inquired about serving on the Sunshine Committee. The Governor cites an exemption (RCW 42.56.250(2)) allowing an agency to withhold applications for public "employment." But Sunshine Committee members are volunteers. They have normal day jobs (newspaper editor, for example). How in the world are Sunshine Committee members government "employees"?

Only one word can describe withholding public records about a "Sunshine Committee."

UPDATE 1 (Saturday): The Tacoma News Tribune's political feature "The Nose" writes this: "From the Washington Ministry of Irony: Gov. Chris Gregoire is refusing a public records request for the identities of some of the nominees who weren’t picked to serve on the new 'Sunshine Committee.' You know, the group charged with reviewing whether government secrecy has run amok."

Dave Zeeck, Executive Editor of the Tacoma News Tribune, posts this description of the AP story: "From the just-doesn't-get-it file ..."

Quite a few newspapers are running the AP story: The Seattle Times, Seattle P-I, (Vancouver) Columbian, Bellingham Herald, Olympian, (Everett) Herald, Tri-City Herald, Yakima Herald-Republic, Spokesman-Review, and Tacoma News Tribune.

Even TV news is on this story: KOMO and KNDO/KNDU.

UPDATE 2 (Sunday): The (Everett) Herald editorializes: "Her interpretation of the law is a monumental stretch, at best. Volunteers on an advisory committee are public employees? The two newspaper executives on the Sunshine Committee would chafe under that definition. Other officials who appointed members, Attorney General Rob McKenna and Auditor Brian Sonntag, said they had no problem turning over the requested records."

Patrick O'Callahan, editorial page writer for the Tacoma News Tribune, has this to say on his Inside the Editorial Page blog: "Is Gregoire – no great champion of open government – trying to conceal the actual champions she did turn down? Just a thought. No, make that a suspicion." Ouch.

This story is getting national attention. The National Freedom of Information Coalition blog has this.

UPDATE 3 (Monday): The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin says this in their editorial: "A dark cloud has already formed over Washington state's new Sunshine Committee, a 13-member panel formed to review and modify or eliminate exemptions to the state's public records law. Gov. Chris Gregoire has decided not to name those who applied for a spot on the commission but were not selected. The governor cited an exemption that says applications for public employment can be kept secret. That's nonsense. These are applicants to a citizens committee and the citizens have every right to know who was not selected. Gregoire's decision is an ironic twist that gets this committee off to a dubious start."

UPDATE 4 (Tuesday): The (Centralia) Chronicle editorializes: "Gov. Chris Gregoire's actions relative to the new committee established by the Legislature to examine the validity of exemptions to the state's Public Records Act is a prime example of why the panel is needed. [After withholding the Sunshine Committee records] we have the irony of our governor, who claims to be a big advocate of open government, withholding what should be public information on applicants to a panel on open government."