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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What Does $3.5 Billion Get You?

The City of Seattle's budget for 2008 is $3.5 billion, reports the Seattle Times. No question that lots of important things--police, fire, street repair, etc.--are included in this figure.

However, the City is chronically slow--ridiculously slow--in providing public records and often deletes far more information than other municipalities. Response times are so slow that most requestors no longer need the records by the time the City gets around to providing them. The public records system in the City of Seattle is broken.

Perhaps in a budget of $3.5 billion the City could find some resources to upgrade its public records system. The City's public records staff would probably welcome additional help.

Let's get to the fundamental question: Why spend any money on providing public records? To allow the public to know, for example, if the police are acting properly, if the fire department is doing what it needs to, if streets are getting repaired, etc. To allow the public to know if the City is doing all the things it is getting paid $3.5 billion to do. That's a fair question to ask, and the answer requires prompt access to public records.

Providing public records is part of what government does. It just is. Public records are not some annoying afterthought, as they currently seem to be in the City of Seattle.