Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The article quotes Allied Law Group's Michele Earl-Hubbard.
Monday, July 30, 2007
The public is the boss. That's an outdated concept, we know, but it's the law.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
In just the past two months that og-blog has been on the web, the Tacoma School Board has had some interesting Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act issues. See here, here, here, and here. Here is a past og-blog posting describing how there is tremendous upside for a government agency to violate the OPMA and almost no downside.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Great news. More local governments should do the same. This is especially good news because a few months ago Skagit County's misuse of closed executive sessions came to light. Looks like they decided to be more open. This should be encouraged.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
These courts of limited jurisdiction handle a vast number of cases – everything from traffic tickets to serious misdemeanors. The sheer volume of those cases, and the relatively minor nature of the offenses they involve, resulted in the widespread practice of shredding criminal files after a short time (three years is the current state standard). That’s not long enough. Consider the 1992 weapons conviction of Terapon Dang Adhahn – the man now charged with the murder of Zina Linnik – in Tacoma Municipal Court."
Open government is not a Republican or Democrat issue; some in each party are pro-disclosure and others are anti-disclosure. Open government is one of the only issues that cuts across ideological lines. Good. We need both parties and people of all viewpoints to keep government open. You need every ally you can get when you're telling government it must do things it doesn't want to do.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
But they won’t tell the public who their choice is until they vote to hire that person Thursday evening. And they won’t reveal the names of the other three finalists. ... That strategy is legal, assistant state attorney general Tim Ford said. But he also said there are ways the district could release the finalists’ names."
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
It discusses recently enacted House Bill 1897, which clarifies the Legislature's intent that government bodies' legal bills are, and always have been, subject to disclosure (except for minor redactions). The new law took effect on July 22, 2007.
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Is there a public interest in knowing the seaworthiness of vessels on which thousands of people ride?
UPDATE: The Tacoma News-Tribune editorializes on the fact that the State Auditor was denied access to the ferry boats in question.
A request pending since 1995? FOIA is a joke. We hope the pro-disclosure FOIA legislation passes.
"In today's New York Times, the business section looks at Congressional legislation pending to reform the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the law that allows citizens, trade associations, and of course journalists, to pierce the veil of obscurity that often surrounds the machinery of government. The Times, citing examples, notes the federal sunshine law has stopped working, resulting in wrongful denial of public records requests and abusive delays by federal agencies without any meaningful consequences. And so the oddly-if-optimistically titled "Openness Promotes Effectiveness in Our National Government Act of 2007" (OPEONGA?) is moving through the US Senate, with support from AWB national partners the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. It would among other things provide tight deadlines for complying with records requests, provide consequences for wrongful denial, and establish an ombudsman to resolve disputes."
The business community has some of the strongest interests in open government. Business should want to know how government agencies are regulating them and spending their money. Sure, a few giant corporations are anti-disclosure, but most of small business is adamantly pro-disclosure.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
- Senate Bill 5435 (creating a Sunshine Committee to review exemptions from disclosure in the Public Records Act and suggest revisions to the Legislature).
- House Bill 1445 (adding statements of statutory construction directing courts to interpret the Public Records Act in favor of disclosure, providing that in the event of a conflict between the PRA and another act the PRA controls, and cleaning up some previous codification errors).
Two more open government laws Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet worked on take effect today:
- House Bill 1458 (also known as the "Ken and Barbara Miller Fairness Act") (requiring a government body to provide notice to a landowner of the public meeting at which the body will decide whether to condemn their property). Greg co-wrote the bill with the Governor's Office and lobbied for its passage.
- House Bill 1897 (clarifying that government legal bills from attorneys they hire are subject to public disclosure for the most part). Greg lobbied for its passage.
Overall, a very good year for open government in the state of Washington.
We have some very tough battles ahead in the 2008 legislative session. Og-blog readers: Make a mental note to take a little time next year to do your part--contacting your legislators, etc.--to pass good laws and defeat bad ones. This stuff matters. A lot.
You can read the (redacted) police report referred to in the story.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Therefore, when Allied Law Group is involved in a case, we will simply post a link to a news story on the matter or a court document showing the final decision, note that Allied Law Group is involved in the matter, and omit any commentary. That seems to be the fairest way to go about this.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Tip of the hat to Mark Mahnkey for sending this to og-blog.
P.S. Assuming for the sake argument that recording isn't required for court commissioner proceedings, we note the words of Art. I, section 10 of the Washington State Constitution: "Justice in all cases shall be administered openly, and without unnecessary delay." Access to court proceedings and court records is extremely important, as demonstrated by this series of magnificent investigative work from the Seattle Times.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Good thing. When the state Office of Financial Management sits down to negotiate contracts with public employee bargaining units, it is representing the citizens of the state and the negotiators are making decisions about how public dollars will be spent. Taxpaying citizens have every right to know what deals are being reached and why."
(Full disclosure: Allied Law Group represents the records requestor in this case, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.)
The seven-page report concludes that Councilman Paul Brewer, the subject of the investigation and a candidate for mayor, was out of control with anger and went on a 'physically intimidating tirade' at the Sept. 28 meeting. ... The News-Times obtained a copy of the report through a public disclosure request."
Do you think this will be an important fact for voters in the upcoming municipal elections? This is one of the main reasons why the Public Records Act exists: to provide information to the public so voters can make informed decisions.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Here, then, are a few past og-blog postings that are particularly interesting ... in case you missed them.
Monday, July 16, 2007
If government agencies can hide these kinds of things, do you think they have an incentive to fix problems? The money, you say; the UW had to pay $480,000 and that should create an incentive to fix things. But that's $480,000 of other people's money; not much of an incentive. Having an embarrassing story on the front page of the Seattle Times is much more of a motivator than a $480,000 judgment. And having the story on the front page required the Public Records Act.
Friday, July 13, 2007
For more information on the case, click:
- here for great background on the case from the Spokesman-Review's Rich Roesler,
- here for the story from The Olympian, and
- here for the court papers in the case.
The law is pretty clear: (1) records of agency business on home computers are a "public record" subject to disclosure, and (2) an agency or employee cannot destroy public records that have been requested until the request is resolved.
What to do if an agency destroys requested public records (before the records can lawfully be destroyed under a state-approved retention schedule)? Sue them, as BIAW has done by recently filing a Public Records Act enforcement case against Pierce County's Auditor regarding voter registration records.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
The Tri-City Herald is one of the most aggressive newspapers in the state when it comes to insisting on compliance with open-government laws. Thank goodness: local governments in the Tri-Cities area are some of the most aggressive in the state when it comes to violating open-government laws.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
should have notified the public that special meetings were going to be held in Germany, Austria,
Hungary and France."
The Tacoma News Tribune's David Seago adds a little zip to this story in his post "Let's inspect sewage in Paris!"
Monday, July 9, 2007
"Just when court officials began catching up with 21st century technology, along comes Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy and throws a monkey wrench into the mess."
Sound Politics recently called this ruling "ridiculous."
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Why Risk Your Municipal Attorney Job When There's No Downside to Violating the Open Public Meetings Act?
The Tri-City Herald piece thoroughly covers the point about terrified municipal attorneys but only mentions the point about the lack of consequences for violating the OPMA. Here's some more detail on the latter point.
Consider the decision making process for a local government looking at whether to violate the Open Public Meetings Act.
The upside of closing the meeting is that you get to talk about the public's business without the pesky public finding out about it. Whew. What a relief--you won't lose any votes in the next election over whatever it is you were supposed to discuss in public.
The downside is pretty remote. Each one of the following eight things must happen in order for you to suffer a measly $100 consequence:
- maybe a citizen will recognize an OPMA violation has occurred (but since the discussion happens behind closed doors it's pretty hard to get caught),
- maybe the citizen has the money to hire an attorney to file suit,
- maybe the citizen can find an attorney who knows anything about the OPMA (only a handful of attorney in the state know this law),
- maybe you can't grind the citizen down in endless court proceedings and costs (your legal costs are paid by taxpayers so why would you care),
- maybe the judge knows the details of the OPMA and doesn't think it's a silly law that gets in the way of "efficient" government decision making,
- maybe you lose the case,
- maybe the judge awards some of the citizen's attorneys fees because you lost (but don't worry because tax money will pay that),
- maybe the judge awards the citizen the $100 penalty that you must pay on your own for a "knowing" violation. But relax. This $100 "downside" only happens if the the citizen succesfully made it through each and every one of these eight gauntlets. Besides, it's only $100--the price of a few yard signs in your next election--and you got to discuss a "sensitive" issue without those pesky citizens around.
What's not to love about the current Open Public Meetings Act? If you're the government, that is.
These records show details about the 22,000 or so miles of pipelines--loaded with extremely explosive petroleum products--crisscrossing Washington state, including many residential areas. Want to know if a gasoline pipeline in your neighborhood is leaking because of poor maintenance by a profit-focused corporation? Just trust the government and the corporation. They never make mistakes. What could go wrong? A leak in Bellingham that explodes in a giant fire ball and kills an 18-year old and two 10-year olds playing in a park? That could never happen.
But it did.
Dave Zeeck's point is that maybe relying solely on state regulators and giant pipeline corporations to make sure the pipelines are safe isn't such a good idea. If the public can see the records, the public is another set of eyes to make sure things don't, say, explode and kill people.
The Public Records Act agrees with the idea that the public gets to maintain control over the agencies which we created and who work for us. In fact, it's why the law exists. The Public Records Act explains how access to public records allows the public to control our agencies:
"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. This chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy."
Saturday, July 7, 2007
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?
You know what we're going to say: "records obtained by The Bellingham Herald through a public disclosure request show ...."
Friday, July 6, 2007
"A requestor asked for a Department of Corrections electronic database and Judge Christine Pomeroy ruled that the DOC's production of paper printouts of the database records was an acceptable response: 'There is no clear right to electronic copies under the Public Disclosure Act,' Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy said in her oral ruling.
Judge Pomeroy's ruling is ridiculous. A print-out is not the same record as the electronic original. If Pomeroy believes that it is then she and her clerks should banned from using Lexis-Nexis and other computer tools and be forced to perform all of their legal research using only books and paper. The state Attorney General's new Model Rules for best practices on disclosure of electronic records make clear that agencies should provide original electronic records when so requested. I have more arguments why paper printouts are an inadequate response to a request for electronic records, here."
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
"Two years ago, a small town bumped into a big freedom – the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The town was Roy. The press was the Nisqually Valley News. It produced one of the rarest violations of the First Amendment: court-ordered censorship to protect a public official from embarrassment."
Michele Earl-Hubbard and Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group are quoted because both were involved in the court case to end the censorship. Note that Attorney General Rob McKenna personally reviewed the State's court papers to overturn the censorship on his BlackBerry. He's a busy guy, but this was really serious.
How appropriate that this little story, now forgotten by most, is being retold by the Tacoma News Tribune in its Independence Day editorial. The Declaration of Independence 231 years ago had a whole lot to do with preventing government from prohibiting newspapers from publishing. Think about it.
So we observe a lesser known anniversary, too. The federal Freedom of Information Act took effect 41 years ago today, necessitated by government's aversion to openness."
http://www.spokesmanreview.com/opinion/story.asp?ID=198070 (link to first page of editorial; viewing next pages requires subscription to Spokesman-Review)
This excellent editorial provides several concrete examples of why open-government laws allow us to enjoy the republic we fought to obtain 231 years ago. There is a clear link--even 231 year later--between the public knowing information about their government and the public exercising their freedoms. Think about it.
This open-government stuff is extremely serious business. It's about freedom.
Did you notice about 2/3 of the way down in the article: much of the information in this story was "released via a public records request." The bus driver's report. The police reports. The school district emails.
The newspaper story quotes Allied Law Group attorney Greg Overstreet.
For those interested in seeing what the Open Public Meetings Act actually says about closing meetings to discuss personnel issues, see the Attorney General's Open Government Internet Manual section 4.3(f) and (g). You be the judge of whether the City of Richland's reasons for closing the meeting are lawful.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
FOIA is a joke. Washington's Public Records Act was consciously designed to be better than FOIA.
The parent found out about the accusation by reading it in the newspaper; the newspaper used the Public Records Act to verify information and prepare the story. Once again, information the public wants is made possible by the Public Records Act.
Monday, July 2, 2007
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Greg Overstreet and
Sunday, July 1, 2007
In Washington, an e-mail deliberation by a governing body violates the Open Public Meetings Act. This was established in the case of Wood v. Battle Ground School Dist. The Attorney General's Open Government Internet Manual, section 3.4(A), discusses the e-mail deliberation issue.