Friday, August 31, 2007
"Most workers know the boss can track their computer use: Send too many personal e-mails, visit too many Web sites unrelated to work, and it could spell trouble. State workers get the same warning. But unlike workers at private companies, their business, by law, is open to public scrutiny. So what happens when a state worker uses his office computer to send e-mails about things like dating habits, weekend plans or family turmoil?
Do taxpayers have a right to see those messages?"
Thursday, August 30, 2007
"The Coalition of Journalists for Open Government's (CJOG) analysis of government's implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) indicates record-setting FOIA problems despite a positive June report on FOIA from the Justice Department. These problems come to light as a legislative effort to reform FOIA has passed both the House and Senate and may soon become law."
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
This mess is what happens when laws haphazardly proliferate over 30 years. It's like a lawn no one takes care of for 30 years. Now "tidying up" is a huge project.
Tom Carr did an admirable job chairing the Committee. The criticism over his appointment was that he represented a big public records offender, the City of Seattle; the criticism never was that he couldn't run a meeting. He ran this meeting well.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Zink will be an important tool for requestors to hold agencies to their obligations under the Public Records Act. Here is a previous og-blog post on the Zink case.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
But, just for the archives, here is a summary of the many Tom Carr postings with links:
- Original og-blog posting
- Associated Press story
- Postman piece
- Soundpolitics first posting and follow-up
- Daniel Lathrop (P-I) piece
- Olympia Business Watch piece
- Tom Carr responds
- Seattle Times story
- Spokesman-Review editorial
- Tacoma News Tribune editorial
- Seattle Times editorial
- Port Townsend Leader editorial (scroll down to "Let the sun shine")
- Wenatchee World editorial
- (Vancouver) Columbian editorial
- Olympian editorial
- Tri-City Herald editorial
- Yakima Herald-Republic editorial
Thanks for reading og-blog as this story unfolded.
That last point might seem odd. The conventional wisdom is that all an identity thief needs is your date of birth and then your life is ruined. As usual, the truth is more complicated than the conventional wisdom. It takes more--much more--than simply a date of birth to pull off identity theft. (Maybe if corporations didn't blindly extend credit to everyone and their cat--and my cat "Mr. Sparky Cat" actually received a pre-approved credit card one time--identity theft wouldn't be such a problem. Pre-approving credit cards for cats--now that's the source of the identify theft problem.)
By the way, if there is anyone out there who still thinks a person's date of birth is a sacrosanct secret that no one could possibly find out (unless mean newspapers ask for it in a public records request), wake up and smell the coffee of the Internet age. Click here to go the state voter registration database, where you can type in any name and (if they are registered to vote, and just about every adult is) then the date of birth and home address instantly pops up. A date of birth is not a secret.
- The Tri-City Herald: "Gov. Chris Gregoire was charged with choosing some of the members. Mostly, she chose well. But when naming the chairman she botched the job. She gave it to Seattle's city attorney, Tom Carr, a notorious foe of open records and of the public's right to know. ... Gregoire sends the wrong message about her commitment to open government by appointing a leader who has a record of open opposition to making public records available to the public."
- The Yakima Herald-Republic: "Unless developments prove otherwise, we have no quarrel with the makeup of Washington's new 'Sunshine Committee,' and look forward to a long-overdue look by the panel at exemptions to the state's Public Records Law. There was a brief flap in some quarters when Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr as chairman. He was in the middle of an open records fuss in a case, Hangartner v. City of Seattle, in which the state Supreme Court sided with Seattle and said government agencies can claim attorney-client privilege to withhold documents from the public. That's a privilege we and many other open-records advocates believe has been sorely abused in the past. But we're talking about a 13-member committee and Carr is only one member, albeit the chairman. The rest of the panel shows commendable balance and broad spectrum of public records interests."
In case anyone--like, say, the Seattle City Attorney--thinks og-blog is unfair, please note that we posted an editorial not critical of the appointment. No problem. This isn't personal. It's just that a very, very important right--and one of the few practical ways citizens have to control their government--is at stake.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
"According to the Open Public Meetings Act, '(An executive session can be held) to receive and evaluate complaints or charges brought against a public officer or employee. However, upon the request of such officer or employee, a public hearing or a meeting open to the public shall be conducted upon such complaint or charge.' 'It would seem that such a duty is implied but it's not explicitly required they notify the employee,' Washington State Attorney General's Office Deputy Solicitor General Tim Ford said. 'If you weren't told, you would certainly have a valid complaint. It seems they should have been notified.' If the city official or employee requested the meeting stay open, council would be required to leave the meeting open to the public, he said.'The language is clear,' Ford said. 'This is a due process right protected by the Open Public Meetings Act. If an employee is not informed of this due process right, their rights have possibly been violated.'"
- The Olympian: "Gov. Chris Gregoire blew it with her appointment of Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr as chairman of a new committee to examine the more than 300 exemptions to the state’s public records act. Carr is a supporter of secrecy in government, not a fan of openness. Greg Overstreet, the former open government ombudsman for Attorney General Rob McKenna, was right when he said that the governor couldn’t have picked 'a more polarizing figure.'"
Friday, August 24, 2007
- The Wenatchee World: "The [Sunshine] committee holds its first meeting next week, and considering the disposition of its leadership some wonder if the nickname will fit. 'Sunshine' may be the wrong word. The Partly Cloudy Committee or the Fading Twilight Committee might be more appropriate, depending on what happens next. The optimistic view, that the committee will be a vigorous advocate for open government, was dealt a blow this week as Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed the new committee's chairman. She chose Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr, known as one of the state's most effective proponents of secrecy, or at least the kind of piecemeal openness that makes a mockery of the basic concept of open government. That concept is simple, and ensconced in state law: The public decides what it should know about government, not the government that decides what the public is allowed to know. Carr, as an advocate for his government clients, helped push the state toward the latter view. In other words, away from the sunshine."
- The (Vancouver) Columbian: "We share a concern of Greg Overstreet, the former open government ombudsman for state Attorney General Rob McKenna. The two men are strong and vocal advocates for open records, and Overstreet says Gov. Chris Gregoire's selection of Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr as committee chairman was a poor choice. Carr 'represents the city of Seattle, which has a horrible track record on public records,' Overstreet told The Columbian. 'Having Carr on the committee sends the wrong message. There needs to be a diversity of viewpoints' on the committee, 'but that pick for the chairman is too polarizing.'"
For those politicians out there who think open government is a minor issue--and one you can get away with having a bad record on because the public doesn't understand the details and really doesn't care--please consider the list of editorials in the past two days on this "minor" issue: The Tacoma News-Tribune, Spokesman-Review, Olympian, Port Townsend Leader, Seattle Times, and now the Wenatchee World and (Vancouver) Columbian. Politicians ignore open government at their political peril.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
- The Seattle Times: "Tom Carr has a chance to prove he is the open-government advocate he claims to be with his appointment to lead a committee scrutinizing state laws that have eroded Washington's public-records law. ... Carr's appointment puts him — and the governor — on the hot seat."
- The Port Townsend Leader (scroll down to "Let the sun shine"): "The bad news is that apparently at the insistence of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Gregoire has named none other than Tom Carr as chairman of this committee. This is a grave mistake. It impugns from the outset the work of what otherwise could be an outstanding enterprise. ... He's simply a poor choice as chairman. Public access advocates refer to him as Darth Vader. Perhaps he should remain on the committee to represent the non-disclosure side of the disclosure discussion, but there are many other fair-minded candidates to serve as chairman."
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
The first wave of editorials came out today:
- The Spokesman-Review: "In her announcement on Monday, Gregoire urged the committee to 'keep in mind the purpose of our state's original public disclosure laws.' Good advice. Had she heeded it herself, she would have chosen a different chairman. ... Carr has been no champion of public disclosure. " http://www.spokesmanreview.com/opinion/story.asp?ID=205753
- The Tacoma News-Tribune: "Gov. Chris Gregoire’s recent decision to appoint Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr as the committee’s chairman is questionable. Carr is chiefly known in open government circles for arguing against disclosure. In the Hangartner case, for example, he succeeded in stretching an exemption for attorney-client privilege to cover tax information relating to the ill-fated Monorail project in Seattle." (Most of the editorial is about the Sunshine Committee, not Tom Carr.)http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/story/138474.html
"If [Thurston County Superior Court Judge] Hirsch's ruling is allowed to stand, it will gut the state's Open Public Records law and limit the amount of information members of the public are able to pry out of the hands of government officials. ... The keys here are whether e-mails are public records and whether they must be retained or can be destroyed at will. The ramifications of Judge Hirsch's ruling are immense because they will determine whether public officials can avoid embarrassing disclosure of documents simply by destroying them."
Note: Allied Law Group represents the records requestor in this case so we will not provide commentary.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
Wrong, Mr. Carr. Greg Overstreet joined the Attorney General's Office on January 11, 2005 (Inauguration Day). The December 2004 memorandum was written by the office of then-Attorney General Christine Gregoire. This shows once again that Carr and Governor Gregoire appear to be philosophically in sync on the topic of open government.
- Almost every daily newspaper in the state carried the AP story on Saturday. In this story note House Majority Leader (and Sunshine Committee member) Lynn Kessler's comment: Whether an exemption stays or goes is "not going to be up to the Seattle city attorney" and "It might be a good time for us to ask a lot of questions about why Seattle is so protective" about not disclosing public records. Ouch. As House Majority Leader, Lynn Kessler is a very high-ranking Democrat, so you know her reaction to the Democratic Governor's appointment is not partisan.
- Soundpolitics had this initial posting and then this follow-up piece.
- Postman ran this hard-hitting piece on Friday.
- Olympia Business Watch wrote this.
- Daniel Lathrop of the P-I ran this on Friday. We highly recommend reading the letter in this link. It is from Mayor Greg Nickels to Governor Gregoire asking her to appoint Tom Carr and whining about how the Public Records Act gets in the way of benevolent government doing wonderful things (our paraphrase).
We are looking forward to some hard-hitting editorials this week on the Tom Carr fiasco.
Friday, August 17, 2007
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.
"Thurston County Commissioner Diane Oberquell needs to back off and let State Auditor Brian Sonntag and his staff do their job. At issue is a conflict between Sonntag, who is simply doing the public's work by auditing the county, and a county government official who feels inconvenienced. In this dust-up between fellow Democrats Sonntag is right and Oberquell is wrong. ...
"Oberquell doesn't get it. This is a test of government accountability — precisely what the voters wanted when they supported I-900 with their votes. ...
"What's her beef? Those are all public records that citizens have a legitimate right to examine. Sonntag said Oberquell's outburst made him wonder what the county might be hiding. .... The county does not have a stellar record when it comes to openness and transparency.
"Sonntag's performance audit on government accountability is due in November. It will be very interesting to see how Thurston County officials responded to legitimate requests for public documents and how the response in Thurston County measured up to the other 29 government jurisdictions tested. Until the report arrives, Oberquell should back off and let Sonntag do the job the citizens gave him through passage of I-900."
Here's a recent Yakima Herald-Republic editorial on this topic and the original Olympian news story.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Here is a link to the story about Thurston County throwing a fit over the anonymous requests, which is a must-read if you haven't already heard about this.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
"The county won a round last month when Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch dismissed the BIAW’s lawsuit, which claimed that the [Pierce County] auditor’s office had violated the state’s Public Records Act by deleting e-mails. The county argued the e-mails in question were never public records. Hirsch has agreed to reconsider the ruling. What concerns us is the possibility that the judge may have blown a gaping hole in the public records law. The BIAW, represented by Greg Overstreet, formerly an open-government expert for state Attorney General Rob McKenna, contends Hirsch did just that – because she apparently ruled that the e-mails were not public records because they had not been 'retained.' By that standard, any public document or e-mail would cease to be a public record the moment it was destroyed or deleted. If that is indeed the import of Hirsch’s ruling, it would be disaster for open government."
Since Allied Law Group represents the requestor in this case, we will refrain from detailed comments until after a decision.
"Open courts and open court records are the foundation on which public trust of the U.S. justice system is built. But the largest and most influential association of lawyers in the nation, the American Bar Association, is flirting with a proposal that would attempt to seal millions of court records, creating a haphazard system that would eventually undermine the public's confidence in courts and law enforcement."
The importance of open court records is clearly illustrated by the Seattle Times outstanding investigative series "Your Courts, Their Secrets."
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
http://www.theolympian.com/southsound/story/186153.html (scroll down to "Hearing delayed in case related to deleted emails").
Note: Allied Law Group represents the records requestor in this case so we will not provide detailed comments until a final decision has been rendered.
The president of a city council threatening to sue the city? That doesn't happen every day.
Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet is quoted in the article.
In addition, the Tri-City Herald's ace Olympia reporter, Chris Mulick, blogs on the topic:
Monday, August 13, 2007
The horrible thing the State Auditor did? Sending out public records that looked like they came from average citizens instead of sending them on State Auditor letter head. The State Auditor did this because everyone knows that if a county received a public records request from the State Auditor they would rush around and provide the records quickly and completely--because the State Auditor was asking for them. But an average citizen would get the run-around. And that's what the State Auditor's Office was trying to find out: How is an average citizen treated. Isn't that a fair question? Isn't finding out how average citizens are treated one of the things performance audits are supposed to find out?
Why the venom from Thurston County toward the State Auditor? If Thurston County is following the law, they have nothing to hide ...
Click here to email Thurston County Commissioner Diane Oberquell, the one who is screaming at the State Auditor, to provide your thoughts.
P.S. Once again proving open government is not a partisan issue, it is worth noting that the pro-open government official here, Brian Sonntag, is a Democrat but so is the anti-open government official, Diane Oberquell.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Idaho's Public Records Act is pretty lame compared to Washington's (although ours has some problems too).
As usual, the Spokesman-Review is fighting hard to get things that ought to be routinely turned over. Good for them. It takes gumption--and money--to get public records nowadays.
Passage of this bill in the 2008 legislative session would be an amazing improvement for open government in Washington state. To see why, browse here and read Open Meetings Gauntlet No. 1.
"Deputy David De La Rosa received a written reprimand for reportedly falling asleep at the wheel of a patrol car and driving off of Dodson Road May 4, according to sheriff's office documents obtained by the Columbia Basin Herald. The patrol vehicle stopped 200 feet from the roadway with damage to the vehicle front end, light bar and right front tire, according to the records. Deputy Beau Lamens received a three-day suspension without pay for losing control of a patrol vehicle on a curve of Road 1 NW near Quincy June 3. Sheriff's office records indicate Lamens entered the curve, which has a posted recommended speed of 25 mph, at an unknown rate of speed and struck a road sign with the rear of the vehicle. The patrol car sustained more than $2,500 in damage to the rear corner panel and bumper."
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Now the State Auditor has made an official audit finding, which is government-speak for "busted."
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
For the other parts of the series and information on how the P-I found all this out, click here.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Pardon the repetition: How was it again that the P-I found this out: "For this project, Seattle P-I reporters sent public disclosure requests to more than 270 law enforcement agencies across Washington."
Monday, August 6, 2007
This is part one of the P-I's series: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/specials/undueinfluence/326446_dui06.html
How was it that the P-I could find all this out? Public records. You know, that pesky "unfunded mandate" that police agencies always complain about.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Here is the story in the Tacoma News-Tribune: http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/story/126133.html
The Olympian also published a version of the TNT story: http://www.theolympian.com/southsound/story/181679.html
Note: Allied Law Group represents the records requestor in this case. We do not provide detailed comments on ongoing ALG cases. When a final decision has been rendered we will post it on og-blog and provide comments.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Judge Pomeroy is the same judge who issued the "paper-only" ruling discussed on og-blog here, here, and here.
Friday, August 3, 2007
For og-blog readers who make frequent public records requests, here's a link to all state agencies' public records officers:
Tip of the hat to Jason Mercier of Washington Policy Center for sending us the link.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
"We’ve all heard the slogan: 'What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.' Thankfully, a judge recently ruled that this logic doesn’t apply to public employee contract negotiations, and taxpayers cannot be completely shut out of a publicly funded process. King County Judge Christopher Washington ruled that documents exchanged between the state and public employee unions during negotiations are public records. ... What you do in Vegas is your own business, but what state employees do on public time is everyone’s."
Yep. The Open Public Meetings Act is no longer a functional law. The OPMA has, in effect, been repealed by continuous and unremedied violations. The reason? There is no realistic downside to violating the OPMA. The eight gauntlets are why.