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Monday, December 29, 2008

Obama Fails to Disclose Meetings

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Pres.-Elect Obama has not been living up to his promise to publish all the groups with whom he meets on the web. The story notes that his disclosure of donors has been very good.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sonntag Is the Governor!

For a few days. He's number 5 on the gubernatorial line of succession and the other four are on vacation.

Enjoy these few days of Gov. Sonntag. We can only dream about the future ...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

County Decides on a Little Openness

Clallam County commissioners decided to evaluate the county manager in an open, not closed, public meeting reports the Peninsula Daily News.

Early reports indicate that the world did not end.

Publicly addressing the public performance of public employees paid with public money and overseen by publicly elected officials accountable to the public is not a "private" affair. It just isn't.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gov't Sues Another Gov't For Public Records

A water district sued a city for public records, reports the Issaquah Press.

And lost.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Trial in Open Meetings Case

The Kitsap Sun reports on a (rare) trial in an Open Public Meetings Act case. Usually these cases are decided on motions instead of full-blown trials with witnesses.

UPDATE: The citizen lost.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Open Up State Employee Bargaining Process

Mike Reitz at Evergreen Freedom Foundation notes that the state employee collective bargaining agreements will be re-opened because of the budget shortfalls. Why not open them up so the public can see how their money is being spent, he asks.

Treasury Sued Over Bailout Records

Fox Business Network sued the U.S. Treasury Department under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain records relating to the bailouts.

Your money. But you can't know how it's being spent (or given away). The bailouts are a deal between Treasury and giant corporations--you aren't part of it. So quit asking to see how your money is being spent. Who do you think you are?

Thanks to Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center for sending this along to og-blog.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hiding $2,000,000,000,000.00

Bloomberg News sought records from the Federal Reserve about where $2 trillion in bailout loans went.

The Fed won't release the records under the Freedom of Information Act.

This could be the biggest heist in world history and we can't see what's going on.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Thought Process of Someone Knowingly and Illegally Destroying Emails

This Associated Press story is amazing. Here's part of it:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A top aide for Missouri's governor encouraged staffers to delete e-mails under the mistaken belief they had found a loophole in the state's public records laws, an attorney fired from the governor's office said in a deposition released Wednesday.
Gov. Matt Blunt, meanwhile, denounced the investigation into his office's e-mail practices as "ridiculous" and "an utter waste of money."

A lawsuit by a bipartisan pair of court-appointed attorneys general contends Blunt "knowingly and purposely" violated Missouri's open-records law by denying access to e-mails. It asks a court to impose fines.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Supreme Court Orders Ohio Agency to Go Find "Deleted" Emails

The idea that hitting the delete button on an agency email that must be retained makes the public record go "poof!" and disappear .... well, that idea went "poof!" and disappeared.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a seemingly deleted public record must be recovered. Some agencies in Washington state should be paying attention to this.

UPDATE: Here is an interesting editorial on the case.

Special Prosecutor Files Suit Against MO Governor For Destroying Emails

Who said it was no big deal to destroy emails that must be retained and then provided under an open government law? The Governor of Missouri, and that's not working out too well for him.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Open Gov't Bills Proposed

In the next several weeks, we will let you know about open government bills being introduced in the Washington legislature. Here are the first:

Thanks to Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center for this heads up.

Why the Light Blogging Lately?

Because lately Allied Law Group has been fighting closed government on several fronts simultaneously.

In a few weeks, we will be announcing details of the growth of the firm. Reinforcements are arriving.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Judge Orders Disclosure of "Town of Residence" In Public Records Case

A judge ordered Kitsap County to release the town of residence of county employees after the Kitsap Sun filed suit to obtain them. The newspaper sought the records to use in a routine database of public employees for various purposes. All the other jurisdictions in the area responded to the same request from the Sun by providing the town of residence records to the Sun.

However, various Kitsap County employees, including prosecutors and sheriffs deputies, filed suit to prevent disclosure because they thought releasing an employee's town of residence (like Bremerton, Silverdale, etc.) would allow people to find their homes. The evidence in the case showed that, as part of the county Assessor's property records, the county's own website provides a Google map to the location of any property owner's home; a declaration in the case described how the county web site provided a map to the home of a prosecutor.

The court ruled that the county employees did not have a "privacy" interest in their town of residence. An exemption from disclosure allows the withholding of a public employee's "residential address" but the court ruled that a town of residence and a full residential address are two different things.

Because the county withheld the records that should have been disclosed, the court awarded the Kitsap Sun its attorneys fees and a daily penalty of between $5 and $100 per day. The amount of the fees and penalty will be determined this month.

Note: Allied Law Group represented the Kitsap Sun in this case.

Monday, December 1, 2008

State Auditor's Office Web Site Survey

The Washington State Auditor’s Office is revamping its Web site, They are asking citizens, audit clients and interested parties to provide feedback on the usability of their existing Web site and suggestions for their new Web site. The brief survey is available at and closes at 5 p.m. on Dec. 4.

The Washington State Auditor's Office is full of very cool people who work very hard to make government more open and accountable. Help them out if you can.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sealed Court Records Hinder Probe of Murder Case

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports that the Attorney General's Office cannot determine if criminal charges should be filed against two defense attorneys in a murder case because ... the court records are sealed.

Note: The story mentions a court case by the Yakima Herald-Republic to obtain records in a related case. Allied Law Group represents the newspaper in that case so we will not comment on it via og-blog.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Public Records Show ... Secret Deal for Fired Police Officer

This KOMO TV story describes a secret deal the Port of Seattle police offer. You should read this story and see why the Port didn't want the public to know what was going on.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Editorial on Sunshine Committee's Recommendation on Att'y-Client Privilege

The Olympian writes this editorial urging the Legislature to act on the Sunshine Committee's recommendation to narrow the attorney-client privilege exemption from disclosure.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Public Records Show ... Millions in Missing Equipment at Local Schools

This KOMO TV story says it all.

Open Gov't Survey: Washington Good and Idaho Bad

This Spokesman-Review story describes a ranking of the 50 states on open government laws. Washington ranks 4th best and Idaho is down in the potato cellar at 44th place.

The survey looks at laws on the books, not how (or if) they are enforced. We suspect Washington would place lower if actual compliance were factored in.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

UPDATED AGAIN: Sunshine Committee Recomends Pro-Disclosure Approach to Attorney-Client Privilege

The Sunshine Committee voted 7-3 to recommend to the Legislature a narrowing of the current interpretation of the attorney-client privilege as an exemption to disclosure of public records.

The Tacoma News-Tribune has this editorial on the matter.

This is very good news. Now the Legislature needs to enact the Sunshine Committee's recommendation. You'll be hearing about this on og-blog in the coming weeks and months.

UPDATE 1: The Seattle Times writes this editorial on the Sunshine Committee's recommendation.

UPDATE 2: The Spokesman-Review writes this editorial.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Grant County PUD to Put Meeting Audio Online

Good news.

The Grant County PUD, which has a checkered history on open-government matters, decided to put an audio copy of its public meetings online. This editorial from the Columbia Basin Herald describes it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

UPDATED: Franklin County's New Copying Cost System

This story from the Tri-City Herald describes Franklin County's copying cost policy.

UPDATE: This editorial from the Yakima Herald-Republic analyzes the issue.

Monday, November 3, 2008

UPDATED: Pierce County Auditor Won't Release Vote Results on Election Night

Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy, a vociferous opponent of open government, will not release election-night results of Pierce County's (bizarre) instant run-off vote for County offices (and McCarthy is running for one of those offices, County Executive).

This blog entry from the Tacoma News-Tribune's Dave Seago is fascinating reading.

UPDATE: After the outcry noted above, the Pierce County Auditor might release the results of the election late Tuesday night. If she feels like it.

Whatcom Open Meetings Situation Heating Up

The Bellingham Herald has this story recapping the Whatcom County open meetings struggle over a secret discussion of the County Executive's salary. It provides a good analysis of a typical open meetings situation.

Here is the previous og-blog posting on this.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Lewis County Might Change Its Open Meetings Policy After State Auditor Report

The (Centralia) Chronicle reports that Lewis County will be changing its ways to conform to the Open Public Meetings Act.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

UPDATED: More Whatcom County Open Meetings Shenanigans

Apparently the pay of individual county employees, like the County Executive, is a secret topic in Whatcom County, where discussions of it must occur behind closed doors.

This blog entry from Sam Taylor at the Bellingham Herald describes the situation.

UPDATE: Bellingham Herald reporter Sam Taylor will stand up at tonight's closed meeting and object to the closure of the meeting. Right on. Somebody has to do this.

Washington Ranks Fourth in "Govt' Integrity" Study

This blog posting from Brad Shannon at The Olympian describes the Better Government Association's ranking of Washington as fourth in the nation in government integrity laws, a component of which is open-government laws.

We might have good laws in this state, but they don't always get enforced (to put it mildly). This is borne out by the states that beat Washington in the rankings: New Jersey, Rhode Island and Hawaii. (Louisiana was just below Washington.) All of these states have histories of corruption. So they have great laws on the books, but that doesn't mean they get enforced.

That's the challenge for us in Washington: given that we have some good laws on the books, let's see that they're actually enforced.

Insurance Company Sues to Prevent Disclosure of Insurance Information

Farmer's Insurance is suing the (Aberdeen) Daily World newspaper to prevent release of insurance claims information. The Insurance Commissioner, the agency holding the records, says the records are disclosable.

A Thurston County Superior Court judge issued a temporary injunction preventing disclosure and will take up the question of a permanent injunction.

This story in the Daily World describes the case.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Whatcom County Open Meetings Violation?

The Bellingham Herald reports that Whatcom County apparently held a private executive session to discuss the salaries of certain employees.

Is this legal? Here is what can be discussed in an executive session; you be the judge:

"[D]iscussion by a governing body of salaries, wages, and other conditions of employment to be generally applied within the agency shall occur in a meeting open to the public."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Public Records Show ... City Using Tax Money for Parks Campaign

KING 5 News has this story about the City of Bellevue allegedly using city tax money to support a campaign on a ballot measure to increase taxes for parks. The use of tax money to support campaigns is completely illegal.

How do we know about this? You guessed it:

"The KING 5 Investigators have obtained e-mails indicating the relationship [between the city and the campaign] was so cozy the campaign committee even asked the parks department to produce and pay for one of its mailers because of the campaign's 'limited resources.'"

Monday, October 20, 2008

Palin Email Charges: $15 Million

MSNBC reports that Governor Palin's office is quoting $15,000,000 as the copying cost of a records request for all (16,000) state employees' emails. The cost for one person's emails, Todd Palin's in this case, is under $1,000. Alaska will only print them on paper and then charge for copying.

This is disappointing. Palin has numerous reformer qualifications. But taking the 1990s approach of printing out emails and charging for the paper copies is not what a reformer should do.

We assume this story is true but MSNBC is not exactly objective about McCain or Palin (to put it mildly). Presumably there was a letter from the Alaska state government quoting these charges so it's probably a true story.

UPDATE: A lawyer from the Axis Law Group correctly noted that the number of employees is 16, 000, not 160,000 as previously noted.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Missouri Governor To Turn Over Emails

The Kansas City Star reports that after months of legal fighting and political bruising, the Governor of Missouri will turn over emails.

This is good news and bad news. The good news is that the emails are getting out. The bad news is that it took litigation by several large newspapers with lots of expensive lawyers--and the little fact that the Republican Governor was facing a re-election challenge from the Democratic Attorney General, who also sought the emails--to get this done. It shouldn't take hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and a gubernatorial election to get public records.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Public Records Show ... Radioactive Water Supply

The Orange County Register has this story on radioactive water in a municipal water system. Looks like the water district knew about the problem for eight years and did not tell anyone. How did the public learn of this? You guessed it.

Thanks to the person who sent this to us. Since he hasn't told us we can use his name, we'll call him the Closet Libertarian.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Audit Questions Open Meetings Notices

The (Centralia) Chronicle writes this story on the State Auditor's recent finding that Lewis County is not properly providing notices of some public meetings.

Campaign Finance Reporting in Washington

Daniel Lathrop at the P-I writes this story about campaign contributions by lobbyists.

Two important principles are at issue in campaign finance issues: the public's right to know who is giving to whom, and the First Amendment rights of donors to spend money to express their political views.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

UPDATED: School Board to Hold "Public" Meeting at Resort

The (Vancouver) Columbian reports that the Battle Ground School District will hold a "public" two-day meeting at an Oregon mountain resort. It's "open" to the public .... who can get to the resort and pay to stay there.

The cost will be about $3,000 for Board members' and staff lodging. Battle Ground-area voters might remember this when the inevitable plea comes in a few months from the District for a property tax increase "for the children".

UPDATE: The Board decided not to hold the "open" meeting at the resort.

Washington State Supreme Court Rated on Open-Gov't and Other Topics

The Washington Policy Center posts this on a rating of the state Supreme Court by the Federalist Society on the following kinds of cases:

1. The Initiative/Referendum process;
2. Statutory interpretation;
3. The public’s right to know through the public disclosure/open records laws;
4. Freedom of political speech;
5. Private property rights; and
6. The right to earn a living.

We find it interesting, and refreshing, that when rating a court on core freedoms that open-government laws make the short list.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Public Records Show ... Mickey Mouse Registers to Vote

Those nice people at ACORN registered "Mickey Mouse" to vote in Florida, reports the St. Petersburg Times. How do we know this? Because the registration form is a public record.

We vaguely remember that a few years ago some county elections officials in Washington state supported legislation to allow them to withhold voter registration information from the public. That would make it impossible to spot Mickey Mouses.

Friday, October 10, 2008

UPDATED School Board Meets in Bar: Open Meetings Violation?

This story from the Kitsap Sun describes the practice of the North Kitsap School Board to meet after the official meeting at a bar. Is this legal?

"The answer lies in what they talk about. If it's just about the Seahawks, it's fine, according to legal experts. If it's about anything that might color school district business,
it's not. "

Allied Law Group's Michele Earl-Hubbard is quoted in the story.

UPDATE: The Kitsap Sun writes this editorial on the board beer meetings.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

County Won't Release New Employee's Resume

The (Aberdeen) Daily World writes this story about Gray Harbor County's decision to withhold a new hire's resume. The county cites an exemption to the Public Records Act which allows the withholding of "all applications for public employment, including the names of applicants, resumes, and other related materials submitted with respect to an applicant."

Monday, October 6, 2008

Judge Reverses His Own Ruling in Prisoner's Public Records Request Case

The Tri-City Herald reports that a Franklin County judge reversed his earlier ruling that a prisoner, Allan Parmalee, could not have pictures of prison guards.

Secrecy Is Not Required

This piece from the (Centralia) Chronicle makes the point that government decision making, even though parts of it can be conducted in closed executive sessions, is not required to be shielded from the public.

There is an urban legend out there that if something can be addressed in executive session that it is "secretized"--no discussion of any kind of the topic, no disclosure of the documents involved. Not true.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Local Candidates' Views on Taping Bill

The (Aberdeen) Daily World writes this on local candidates' views on the taping bill.

Note one of the candidate's restroom hysterics.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Lottery Winners' Identity Finally Made Public

This fascinating story from the Yakima Herald-Republic describes the extraordinary efforts lottery winners took to prevent disclosure of their identity.

The government agency involved, the Lottery Commission, was squarely on the side of full disclosure. (Yes, og-blog often criticizes government agencies, but also gives them credit when credit is due.)

Irony alert: The lottery winners didn't want anyone to know they won, but their suit to prevent disclosure of their names is now in the Yakima newspaper, just about every other paper in the state via the Associated Press, and on TV.

Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet is quoted in the story about how sealing the court records at issue violated the court rules.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Olympian Editorial on Budget and Spending Transparency

This editorial from The Olympian describes why a new law requiring transparency in the state budget and spending process is a good thing.

This law is such a good idea, and potentially embarrasses those who run things, that we were totally surprised it passed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cities' Lobby Group to Oppose Taping Bill

Not too much of a surprise, but here is the Association of Washington City's legislative agenda.

By the way, did you notice that the taping bill is almost the only legislative proposal from the cities that does not involve asking for huge sums of money. Their legislative agenda seems to be "Give us lots and lots of money but you can't record our secret deliberations to find out how we're operating."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Public Records Show ... School District Paid Nearly $200,000 in Censorship Case

The (Everett) Herald writes this fabulous story about how the Everett School District spent nearly $200,000 in legal fees to censor a student newspaper critical of the District. The District allegedly put the student paper's teacher-advisor under surveillance.

How did the Herald learn of the legal fees and many of the facts surrounding this? You guessed it: public records. And the Herald had to hire an attorney to get them.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Legislator Emails

This piece from the National Council of State Legislatures discusses the issue of whether state legislators' emails are disclosable public records.

Kitsap Sun Files Suit Over Town of Residence Records

The Kitsap Sun newspaper filed suit to intervene in a lawsuit brought by public employees to prevent the Sun from obtaining the town of residence of those employees. Not the residential address; the town of residence. The Kitsap Sun ran this story about it.

Allied Law Group represents the Kitsap Sun in this case so we will not be commenting on it on og-blog.

Vice President Ordered to Retain Records

The Washington Post reports that a federal court has ordered Vice President Dick Cheney to retain his papers so there will be some records to turn over to National Archives.

As we have said before, what good are open-government laws if public records are destroyed before they can be requested?

If you consider yourself left-of-center and are cheering that Republican Dick Cheney was ordered to retain his records before he could destroy them, then consider the many Washington state and local governments, run almost exclusively by Democrats, which routinely destroy all their email after a few days. The same principle--what good are open-government laws if public records are destroyed before they can be requested?--applies to governments run by people other than Dick Cheney.

Open-government laws are a check on whomever is in power, and officials of both political parties violate these laws when they are in power.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Executive Session Taping Bill--Compromise?

This Tri-City Herald story discusses the views of Attorney General Rob McKenna and his challenger, Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, on a possible compromise on the executive session taping bill. The compromise would make the taping bill apply only to local governments and state boards which the State Auditor has identified as having violated the open meetings law. Ladenburg seems to want even more "compromise" (that is, fewer controls on government).

We think it's too much of a compromise. But we'll wait to see what is introduced in the 2009 legislative session.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is Sarah Palin Trying to Hide Public Records?

The Seattle Times runs this story from the Anchorage Daily News about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's apparent use of "private" email accounts to conduct state business.

Speaking of Sarah Palin, could Tina Fey have done a more dead-on imitation of her on Saturday Night Live?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mason County Settles Public Records Suit for $175,000

The Olympian reports that a non-lawyer representing himself obtained a $175,000 settlement against Mason County in a Public Records Act case.

The county says it didn't do anything "egregious." That's odd, given that this is one of the largest Public Records Act settlements in history.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Bremerton School District Less Than Forthcoming

The Kitsap Sun reports on the way the Bremerton School District is handling a public records request from the newspaper. Same ol', same ol'.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Candidate Open-Gov't Questionaire Results

Here are the results of the Washington Coalition for Open Government's question to candidates about open-government issues and many of the candidate's responses.

Tri-City Herald Editoiral on $230,000 Fine for Town of 440

The Tri-City Herald writes this editorial about the Public Records Act penalty of almost $230,000 levied against the tiny town of Mesa, population 440.

Oh, but don't cry for Mesa: they deserved it.

Too bad a town with an annual budget of under $350,000 must pay a fine of $230,000--but that's what happens when you blatantly break the law and then carry on for years in court (fueled by taxpayer money paying the city's legal fees). The town's officials decided to gamble (with taxpayer money) and lost. Should have thought about that when you started breaking the law.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Public Records Show ... Western State Director Forced Out

The Tacoma News-Tribune reports that the director of Western State hospital was forced to resign and the state was less than truthful in saying otherwise. How do we know?

"State social service leaders forced the chief executive of Western State Hospital to resign Aug. 8 and gave him no explanation for the decision, according to public records obtained by The News Tribune. ...

"The records, including e-mails from Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office and the Department of Social and Health Services, undercut earlier public statements from state leaders that implied Phillips resigned willingly."

Monday, September 1, 2008

UPDATED: Neener Neener Backfires

The Olympian reports on a giant public records request by anti-open-government Thurston County Commissioner Diane Oberquell. If she was trying to make a point, it backfired when the Attorney General's Office dutifully and efficiently fulfilled the request. Be sure and read the comments to this story. Ouch.

For past hijinks from Oberquell see this post, which was the most-read og-blog post ever.

UPDATE: The Olympian writes this brutal editorial on Oberquell's passive-aggressive tantrum. Here's a snippet:

"Thurston County Commissioner Diane Oberquell has submitted two voluminous public records requests to state agencies out of pure spite. It's vindictiveness at its worst and as a public official, Oberquell should know better. She has embarrassed herself in her final days in office and her retaliatory requests for public records are yet another indication that at 20 years, she has stayed in office too long.

"Her petulant behavior has cost taxpayers thousands of dollars. Yet when asked for an explanation for her actions, Oberquell declined to comment, referring questions to her attorney.

"That speaks volumes."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Public Records Show ... Seattle Spent $2,900,000 on Sonics Legal Fees

After the P-I made a public records request, the City of Seattle disclosed that they spent $2,900,000 on legal fees in their fight to keep the Sonics in Seattle. The City settled with the Sonics for what many called the worst settlement in history.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Indiana Courts Apply Public Records Act to Themselves

The Indiana Supreme Court held that their state's version of the Public Records Act applies to the courts.

This story was sent by a regularly reader who works for the Axis Law Group.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

$228,905 Public Records Penalty Against Town of 440

The City of Mesa played games for years with a public records requestor and now must pay $228,905 in penalties to the requestor. (The requestor's attorneys fees are not included; that will be even more.) The City has a population of 440 and an annual budget of $344,808.

The City could have followed the law or it could have settled early on. But aggressively fighting the requestor (with the City's taxpayer-funded attorneys) seemed like a better idea.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Injured Bicyclist Sues State to Get Bike Accident Data

The P-I reports that an injured bicyclist has sued the Washington State Patrol to obtain information about how many others have been injured on the same bridge.

Monday, August 18, 2008

NJ Governor Tries to Use Executive Privilege to Shield Emails

The Governor of New Jersey is trying to use executive privilege to prevent the disclosure of emails about some very interesting things.

Tip of the hat to a regular og-blog reader (who we're normally suing) for sending us this story.

Public Records Show ... School District Spent $140,000 on Student Newspaper Investigation

The (Everett) Herald reports: "The Everett School District has spent more than $140,000 investigating an underground high school newspaper and the teacher who disobeyed orders in support of the student journalists." The District allegedly put the teacher under surveillance.

How do we know that $140,000 was diverted from education to pay lawyers to defend an Orwellian school district? You guessed it: "according to heavily redacted billing records provided to The Herald under a public records request."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Open Gov't Violation Grounds For Recall

The P-I reports that the Washington State Supreme Court held today that a recall petition could go forward against a Port of Seattle commissioner because she acted (to increase the pay of the port director) outside of a public meeting.

The port commissioner announced she won't run for re-election.

Since the $100 penalty doesn't seem to deter violations, maybe recall will.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Increase in Open Gov't Blogging

This is interesting: the State Sunshine and Open Records blog writes about the significant increase in open-government blogs.

Why the increase in open-government blogs? We have three thoughts. First, with all the great hypocrisy going on across the nation with government officials claiming to be for "open government" but then blatantly violating the law by withholding records, there is so much good stuff to blog about. Second, so many of the examples of information they are trying to hide are things that important to lots of everyday people (abuse of kids, stealing tax money, political favoritism, etc.). Third, blogging software is so easy to use that our dog could do it. (We could call it "dog-blog.")

Settlement Documents Should Be Open Court Records

This interesting article comes from a newspaper in South Carolina and describes the issue of public access to settlement documents in cases involving public safety. A very good discussion of the issue.

Washington recently adopted a court rule significantly increasing public access to court records.

Jolene Unsoeld Awarded James Madison Award

The Washington Coalition for Open Government will award its James Madison Award for lifetime work protecting open government to former Congresswoman Jolene Unsoeld. She helped draft and pass the 1972 initiative creating the (then-named) Public Disclosure Act.

"John Hughes Leaves World for History"

A very catchy headline from David Postman. It describes John Hughes leaving the (Aberdeen) Daily World to become a historian for the Secretary of State.

Hughes is a real open-government champion. He is on the Sunshine Committee. And he's just a great guy. We wish him well.

We highly recommend his book on Grays Harbor history called On the Harbor, From Black Friday to Nirvana. It's less of a history book and more of a series of fascinating stories.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tri-City Herald Editorial on John Does 1-11

The Tri-City Herald weighs in on the horrible John Does 1-11 case. Says the Herald:

"The public has a right to know if the people charged with keeping our children safe are doing the job. Keeping their behavior secret is of primary importance to sexual predators. Once their true nature is known, they're finished and they know it. But now the state Supreme Court made it easier for them to hide."

Friday, August 8, 2008

Olympian Editorial on John Does 1-11

The Olympian writes this thoughtful editorial on the John Does 1-11 case. Says The Olympian:

"The high court ruling will make it next to impossible for someone outside the school district to determine if allegations are taken seriously, or swept under the rug. Just because an allegation isn't substantiated doesn't mean wrongdoing didn't occur."

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Best Explanation of Why John Does 1-11 Will Hurt Kids

A specialty blog, the Seattle Public Schools Examiner, lays out why the John Does 1-11 ruling will give school districts an incentive to sweep allegations of teacher/student sexual misconduct under the rug. That's right: an incentive. Read why.

(Longview) Daily News Editorial on John Does 1-11 Case

The (Longview) Daily News adds its voice to growing chorus of those deeply troubled by the state Supreme Court's ruling in the John Does 1-11 case.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Public Records Show ... Police Officer Using City Computer for Online Dating

The Anacortes American has this story about a police officer allegedly using his city computer for online dating, visiting some "racy" web sites, etc.

How could the newspaper verify this and run the story? "According to a city investigative report received after a freedom of information request ...."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Brutal TNT Editorial on John Does 1-11 Case

"Breathtakingly disconnected from reality" is how this Tacoma News-Tribune editorial describes the state Supreme Court's recent John Does 1-11 decision. That case allowed the non-disclosure of teacher identities in some student-teacher sexual misconduct investigations.

The title of the editorial says it all: "Court to public: Butt out of student abuse probes."

Seattle P-I Editorial on John Does 1-11 Case

Here is the P-I's editorial on the topic.

Seattle Times Does Not Endorse Justice Fairhurst


The Seattle Times does NOT endorse the incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst, instead endorsing her challenger, Michael Bond. The main reason: Justice Fairhurst seems to side nearly every single time with government, especially on open-government matters.

Every other newspaper, however, has endorsed Justice Fairhurst.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

How the Everett School District Tries to Operate in Secret

This story from the (Everett) Herald details how the Everett School District does all it can to prevent people from knowing what it is doing. The story centers on the District's action after a scandal arose over alleged secret videotaping of a teacher.

As you read this, keep asking yourself, "These people supposedly work for the public, with the mission of educating kids?"

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Power of OPM

This editorial from The Olympian opines that agencies like the Port of Olympia should cut their legal bill loses and simply turn over public records when a court says so, instead of appealing and then losing again and running up the bills even higher.

The Olympian is right, but why would a government agency do something it doesn't want to do when it has "free" tax money to spend trying to get lucky in a higher court? It's OPM: "Other People's Money" so why care?

A solution would be for the Public Records Act to do what the Open Public Meetings Act does: impose personal liability. Then it's not OPM but MOM: "My Own Money." It's weird how decision making changes when it's MOM.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Blow to Open Government: Bellevue John Does 1-11

The Washington State Supreme Court issued its Bellevue John Does 1-11 ruling.

Here is the majority opinion and the dissent.

Here is a Seattle Times story on the decision.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Light Blogging Lately

Og-blog has been fighting the power lately pretty hard in our day jobs at Allied Law Group. It keeps us ultra busy.

Plus there haven't been too many good open government stories.

Open Gov't Forum in Oak Harbor on Wednesday

The Washington Coalition for Open Government will hold an open government forum in Oak Harbor on Wednesday, July 30.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pierce County Agency Will Meet Again ... After AG's Office Intervenes

The Pierce County Landmarks Commission decided to give away a bunch of tax money in a closed meeting. Then the Attorney General's Open Government Ombudsman intervened and now the Commission will hold an open public meeting to consider the grants.

The story quotes a Commission staff member who said "a Pierce County attorney advised her that a public notice wasn't necessary because it was a special meeting called by the [Commission] chair." That Pierce County attorney might want to look at RCW 42.30.080.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Federal Ruling on Reporter Shield

This story from the Washington Times describes a win for a reporter protecting his source.

Washington State has a statute providing a reporter shield. Federal law does not, although Congress is currently considering it.

Requestor Beats Port of Olympia in Court of Appeals

Another win for open government. In this case, the Port of Olympia claimed already-executed leases were exempt from disclosure under the "deliberative process" exemption. This exemption shields (in limited circumstances) the back-and-forth communications about the formation of agency policies.

UPDATE: The Olympian writes this story on the case, which includes some good background.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Public Records Show ... City of Seattle Thumbs Nose at New Tax Law

Here is a posting from the Association of Washington Business blog, Olympia Business Watch. Note the link in the posting called "e-mail from the city's tax manager." It contains an email--obtained via the Public Records Act--from the city's tax chief saying the following about a new state tax law the city didn't like:

"I think when we adopt the provisions of [the new tax law], we are not going to do exactly what [the Legislature has] directed and see if anyone challenges what we do."

Who is it that oversaw the defense of the city's conscious decision to ignore the law "and see if anyone challenges what we do"? Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr, who is also Gov. Gregoire's pick to chair the Sunshine Committee.

City of Puyallup Trying to Do Better on Public Records

The City of Puyallup has implemented some new measures to improve its public records performance. The story does not say that the city has had to fire all its police officers and quit paving the streets in order to pay for the open-government improvements. Apparently, improving public records performance can be done.

UPDATE: The Tacoma News-Tribune writes this editorial praising the City of Puyallup's efforts.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Open Gov't Popular (With Citizens)

This story from Wisconsin says a survey found 96% of people said open government was important.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Emails Are Disappearing

This Associated Press story describes how government agencies don't archive emails so--poof!--they go away and the public can't request them.

A public records law only works if there are public records left to request. Government has figured this out. When will the public?

UW To Seek Exemption from Disclosure for Stadium Funds

A P-I blog describes the UW's (perennial) request for tax money to expand the football stadium. Part of the request includes an attempt to exempt donors from public disclosure.

It's just public money. Why should the public know anything about it?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Olympian Editorial on Inmates' Rights to Public Records

The Olympian writes this editorial calling on the Legislature to clarify whether inmates are covered by the rights afforded to everyone else under the Public Records Act. The Supreme Court seems to say yes and the Attorney General says no. Writes The Olympian:

"We know that convicted felons forfeit some rights — the right to gun ownership, the right to vote, etc. But do they forfeit their right to public records as the attorney general suggests? Lawmakers must settle the question with clarifying legislation."

"So-called Sunshine"

This Seattle Times editorial criticizes the Sunshine Committee for not doing anything about the attorney-client exemption from disclosure. Says the editorial: "For the panel to make no recommendation to remedy this giant loophole would be a gloomy forecast for open government."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Court Rules Against White House in Attempt to Keep Visitor Logs Secret

The Associated Press reports that an appeals court ruled that executive privilege does not shield White House visitor logs from public disclosure. The case goes on because the President can raise other legal defenses.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Association of Washington Cities--Subject to Public Records Act?

This story from the P-I describes the David-and-Goliath battle of non-lawyer Arthur West suing the Association of Washington Cities to obtain their records under the Public Records Act. The question is whether the association is a public "agency" under the Act.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"It Sickens Me ..."

Wow. An Ohio news story reports that a records request to an agency in that state produced an email from a government employee saying this about providing public records: "It sickens me to think of the waste and unproductive time being spent in the name of open records and freedom of the press."

Yuck. Open records and freedom of the press. Who needs that? Most countries in the world do just fine without them.

President Threatens Veto of Email Archiving Bill

President Bush has made only a handful of veto threats in his presidency (far too few in og-blog's humble opinion). But one issue is such a threat to the foundations of freedom that the President has threatened a veto: a bill to require better archiving of White House emails. This article from describes the situation.

Think about all the dumb--really, really dumb--laws Congress has passed in the past seven years. Almost none of them were so horrific to warrant a veto threat from the President. But archiving emails? That's worth fighting over? Apparently.

This illustrates once again that open government is not a partisan issue, but rather an "ins"-versus-"outs" issue. Since Democrats largely run government in western Washington, and many of the open-government news stories we cover happen to come from western Washington, many of the postings on og-blog chronicle Democrats trying to prevent disclosure. But Republicans control the White House so--guess what?--they are trying to thwart disclosure in this instance. The "ins" versus the "outs."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Public Records Show ... Questionable Sound Transit Spending

This P-I article discusses some questionable spending by Sound Transit. The State Auditor is looking into whether the spending violates campaign-finance laws.

How did the public get to find out about this? The Washington Policy Center made a public records request, obtained information, and then the newspaper wrote about it. That's how.

Sunshine Committee Considers Attorney-Client Privilege

This story from The Olympian describes testimony provided to the Sunshine Committee about the attorney-client privilege as a basis for withholding public records.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Transparency Trend

This article from the National Conference of State Legislatures magazine, entitled "The Transparency Trend" (scroll down), reports:

"Almost a third of online Americans surveyed in a recent poll are searching the Internet for information about how the government generates and spends taxpayer dollars, and most are disappointed, according to a recent Association of Government Accountants study. The study also showed that almost half of those surveyed are not satisfied with the information they receive about their state’s financial management. They want understandable and timely information, and they want to be educated about state budget challenges."

Washington has a good law on this.

A Sorta Kinda Win for Open Government

This blog piece from the TNT's Kim Bradford explains why the recent Supreme Court decision about inmate records requestors conflicts with the Attorney General's position in another case.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Kessler/Ladenburg Fireworks

Whoa. How did og-blog miss this one?

Based on a tip received by a fellow shopper at the Olympia Safeway--where all the important people in state government and politics buy hot dog buns before the Fourth of July--we have a very interesting update. It's on the story about House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler not endorsing fellow Democrat and Attorney General candidate John Ladenburg over an open-government stance. Here's the old og-blog post on the rift.

Ladenburg then told the Tacoma News-Tribune that Kessler did, indeed, endorse her. Rift over and fellow Democrats were cool with each other ....

But Kessler denied it. She told the paper that, no seriously, she was NOT endorsing Ladenburg. The Republican Party issued a press release calling Ladenburg a liar for claiming Kessler endorsed him when she didn't. Wow. All this began over Kessler's support of, and Ladenburg's apparent opposition to, a bill requiring the recording of executive sessions of public meetings.

We'll say it again: this open-government stuff crosses partisan lines and means a whole lot to principled people in both political parties.

Inmates Can Have Public Records ... Not

The state Supreme Court ruled yesterday in Livingston v. Cedeno that jailers comply with the Public Records Act when they mail records to an inmate's prison mail box ... and then confiscate the records as "contraband." So you can have the records ... not. This Seattle Times story describes the case. Here is the majority decision and Justice Jim Johnson's dissent.

This ruling--that inmates can use the Public Records Act but that prison contraband rules then kick in--directly conflicts with the Attorney General's brief last month in another case that an inmate is not a "person" and therefore cannot use the Public Records Act.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

City to Open Up Meetings to End the "Backroom Stigma"

The City of Aberdeen is considering ending their "meeting before the meeting" in a small conference room. The story is in the (Grays Harbor) Daily World. The meetings are open to the public but no one feels terribly welcome in the small room, which presumably is literally a "backroom."

Good for Aberdeen. The public won't bite. And they will probably feel more involved in their city, which is a good thing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

TNT Editorial on Televising School Board Meetings

Getting public records or access to public meetings is important, but an often overlooked piece of the open-government puzzle is providing the public with easy access to government decision making via broadcasting or webcasting.

The Tacoma School District seems to be afraid of broadcasting its proceedings on local cable. Maybe they fear Wayne and Garth will take over the cable access channel and invite Aerosmith on as musical guests.

This Tacoma News-Tribune editorial describes why the Tacoma School District should let the public into their decision making by broadcasting their meetings. Each of the District's arguments is addressed in the editorial.

The $2 Million Question Remains Secret

The Yakima Herald-Republic's attempt to obtain records about the spending of tax money was rebuffed. This story describes what happened.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

ALEC Endorses Union Negotiation Transparency

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a state legislative think tank, has adopted a union collective bargaining transparency proposal of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation's. The need for transparency came to light when a Washington state public employees' union sought to shield records from the public. They lost.

Judge Denies Inmate Public Records Request

The Tri-City Herald carries this story on an inmate's request of public records, which a judge denied.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Public Records Show ... Company Pleaded With Governor For Help

This investigative journalism piece from the Tri-City Herald describes--based on emails provided under the Public Records Act--how a uranium enrichment company begged Gov. Gregoire to help with the project that would have kept hundreds of jobs in the Tri-Cities area. The company alleges the Governor did not help.

Deleted Emails in Texas

This story describes how all the laws in the world don't prevent some local governments in Texas from automatically deleting emails that are supposed to be kept for months or years. This happens even in Texas where the penalty for illegally destroying public records is jail time.

Open Gov't Key Issue in Court of Appeal Race

This story from the Sequim Gazette describes a debate between Court of Appeals candidates Judge Robin Hunt and Attorney General Open Government Ombudsman Tim Ford. Open government seems to be the central issue in the race.

Who said open government was a wonkish issue that never mattered in real elections?

Kitsap Sun Editorial on State Auditor Performance Audit on Public Records

This editorial from the Kitsap Sun notes that Kitsap County did pretty well in the State Auditor's performance audit on public records.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Grays Harbor Open Gov't Forum

This story from the (Aberdeen) Daily World describes an open-government forum held in Grays Harbor County. It has a good description of the issues and various view points on the topic.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Whatcom County Puts Some Records Online

Here's a piece from Sam Taylor at the Bellingham Herald on the Whatcom County Auditor's decision to put some routine records online.

Putting records online is great for the public and cuts down on the number of public records requests, something agencies always say they wished would happen.

Years from now we will wonder why it took paper requests for paper records, which resulted in paper court filings to get paper court orders requiring disclosure ... of paper records.

Union Contracts to Prevent Disclosure

Here is an interesting piece from State Sunshine and Open Records about a Wisconsin case in which a public employees' union entered into an agreement with the state requiring the withholding of certain information.

Washington agencies try this on occasion too but it's pretty clear that a contract cannot override a statute. Imagine the mischief if it could--a contract not to pay taxes, a contract to drink and drive, etc.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Yakima Herald-Republic Sues County for $2 Million Records

The Yakima Herald-Republic filed suit to obtain billing records in a murder case where Yakima County has spent $2 million of tax money on the defense. Here is the story.

AG's Open-Gov't Ombudsman Running for Court of Appeals

This article from the Peninsula Daily News describes a judicial candidates' forum between Court of Appeals judge Robin Hunt and her challenger, AG Open Government Ombudsman Tim Ford.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial on AG's Brief on Prohibiting Inmates From Requesting Public Records

The Yakima Herald-Republic writes this editorial on Attorney General Rob McKenna's recent friend-of-the-court brief which argues that inmates should not be allowed to request public records.

Public Records Show ... Al Gore's Home Uses the Energy of 232 Average U.S. Homes

By making a public records request to the public utility serving former Vice President Al Gore's home, a Tennessee advocacy group found out that the "green" Mr. Gore uses the energy of 232 average-sized U.S. homes.

More on State Auditor's Public Record Performance Audits

The Olympian reports on a hearing Thurston County held to address the findings about it in the State Auditor's Public Records Performance Audit.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tacoma News-Tribune Editorial on AG No-Prisoners Brief

The Tacoma News-Tribune writes this editorial on Attorney General Rob McKenna's argument to the Court of Appeals that inmates should be prohibited from making public records requests.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Alleged Open Meetings Violation Subject of Recall Petition

The Peninsula Gateway reports that a citizen alleging a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act has filed a recall petition against a commissioner of the Key Peninsula Fire Department (Pierce County Fire District No. 16).

Attorneys fees, a penalty, and invalidating the actions illegally taken in a closed meeting are not the only consequences of an Open Public Meetings Act violation. Recall is also possible.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Attorney General Files Brief Arguing Felons Don't Have Right to Public Records

This (Everett) Herald story carries an Associated Press story about Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna's brief arguing that felons have no right to request public records.

Monday, June 9, 2008

City of Seattle Says It Will Improve Its Public Records Process

This Seattle Times editorial describes the City of Seattle's announcement that it will take steps to improve its public records performance. The improvements are aimed at remedying many of the problems identified by the State Auditor's Office in a recent performance audit.

A few thoughts. First, it looks like performance audits work. Second, the performance audit's main conclusion is that an agency's internal culture has a tremendous impact on its open government performance; it took the City of Seattle years to devolve into a culture of secrecy and it will take a long time to change. Finally, we will give the City the benefit of the doubt with its stated intention to improve--but will look at evidence to see if it's happening.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pierce County (!) Creates Ombudsman Post

Pierce County--not exactly known for its open government--announced it will create a public records ombudsman post similar apparently to the Attorney General's.

Pierce County Council member Shawn Bunney pushed the reform and is being honored with a "Key Award" from the Washington Coalition for Open Government. Congratulations.

Both Obama and McCain Support Searchable Spending Database

The Washington Policy Center notes that both presumptive presidential candidates support a robust searchable database of federal spending. This makes sense for any candidate of "change," as both assert they are.

Public Record Show ... School Received Up to 30 Warnings About Teacher Sex Abuser

Public records obtained by The Seattle Times for this story indicate that the Seattle School District received as many as 30 different warnings that a teacher was acting sexually inappropriately with young students. (The District says it received 5 warnings.) The District admitted liability and settled a civil law suit for $3 million.

Some teachers in another case actually argued that the public has no legitimate interest in obtaining the release of public records with the names of teachers accused of sexual misconduct. No legitimate public interest. Think about that.

Agency Kudos

This editorial from The Olympian describes the good work of a state agency, the Department of General Administration, after a previous performance audit showed some problems. The agency did well in the public records performance audit.

The media and (og-blog) don't just report agency misdeeds.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Kitsap County Pays $125,000 to Settle Public Records Case

This Kitsap Sun story describes Kitsap County's payment of $125,000 to settle an inmate's public records case.

Apparently the County said the record didn't exist but later found it. Then the County did the honorable thing: admitted it. Og-blog compliments government agencies whenever possible.

Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial on Open Meetings, Center for Justice, and Sunnyside

The Yakima Herald-Republic writes this editorial, which was sparked by the City of Sunnyside's apparent decision in an executive session to hire a new city manager. The editorial describes the importance of open meetings and mentions the Center for Justice's recent open meetings enforcement cases.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

NJ Governor's Email Ordered Disclosed

A governor's attempt to claim executive privilege fails.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

School District Spends $29,453 on Trip to Uganda

The State Auditors Office found the South Kitsap School District spent $29,453 on a trip to Uganda, reports the Kitsap Sun. We bet they came back with some great pictures of giraffes that were very educational. The District won't pay it back, by the way.

While open-government laws like the Public Records Act, Open Public Meetings Act, and access to court records are the most common topic of og-blog, the State Auditor's publication of audit findings is another important open-government measure. The State Auditors Office often shines the light on our government when no one else can.

Now the voters in the South Kitsap School District know where their money went.

The Anatomy of a Public Records Response Gone Bad

This story from the Tacoma News-Tribune describes a judge's findings about how the City of Lakewood either made one mistake after another or intentionally withheld records.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

AP Story on Center For Justice's Open Gov't Accountability Project

Here's a story from the Associated Press on the Center For Justice's Open Government Accountability Project. The story ran in the Seattle P-I, Seattle Times, Spokesman-Review, Tacoma News-Tribune and others.

The AP describes the Center as "Washington's newest sheriffs of 'sunshine.'"

Note: Allied Law Group represents the Center on these cases.

Judge Kip Stilz to Retire (Updated)

A point of personal privilege, as they say in the Legislature.

This story from The Olympian describes the retirement of a fabulous human being, Thurston County District Court judge Kip Stilz. He has worked on open-government and especially open courts issues for years. And he is one of those people in a community who everyone genuinely likes and respects.

UPDATED: Here is an editorial from The Olympian on Judge Stilz's retirement.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Yelm Fire District Settles Center For Justice Open Meetings Case

The Nisqually Valley News reports on the Yelm Fire District's settlement of the Open Public Meetings Act enforcement case filed by the Center for Justice. The District paid about $6,000 in attorneys fees and costs to the Center. The District ended the case early to keep the legal fees low and has put measures in place to prevent future violations.

Note: Allied Law Group represented the Center for Justice. This was one of five Open Public Meetings Act cases filed by the Center on March 17, 2008 during Sunshine Week.

Friday, May 23, 2008

! Dem. House Majority Leader Won't Endorse Dem. Att'y Gen. Candidate--Open Gov't Cited

Holy Toledo.

Democratic House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler says she won't "now or ever" endorse Democratic Attorney General candidate John Ladenburg. Why? The reason Kessler describes in this story from The (Aberdeen) Daily World is Ladenburg's opposition to the open-meetings taping bill Kessler worked on with incumbent--Republican--Attorney General Rob McKenna.

"[Kessler] is concerned that Ladenburg has been outspoken about legislation she and McKenna championed this year to force local governments to record their executive sessions. The recordings would only be provided to a judge if questions arise that the government bodies are violating the state’s open public meetings law.

"Kessler said 'out of respect to the Democrats,' she has no plans to endorse McKenna, 'but I can’t see a scenario where I endorse Ladenburg now or ever. Except for defending my bill, I think this race is going to see me silent.'"

This open-government thing is an amazing political issue. When a legislative majority leader doesn't endorse an Attorney General candidate from the same party over something, you should take note of what that something is.

UPDATE: The Tri-City Herald's political reporter blogs about this here. Sound Politics has this.

Seattle Times Editorial on the City of Seattle's Poor Showing

The Seattle Times writes this editorial about the recent poor showing of the City of Seattle in the State Auditor's performance audit on public records.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The "Ins" Versus The "Outs"

This Kitsap Sun story on last night's open-government forum in Bremerton contains an observation that captures the political reality of the open-government issue. Tim Ford, the Attorney General's open-government ombudsman and candidate for the Court of Appeals, noted that open government is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Instead, it's the "ins" (those in power) who often oppose disclosure versus the "outs" (those out of power) who want to know what's going on.

How true. Why do some Republicans in eastern Washington join some Democrats in western Washington in opposing open government? Because they run things in their respective parts of the state. Sometimes they don't want the public nosing around the governments they run.

As with all general rules, there are specific exceptions to the ins-versus-outs principle. But it works much of the time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

TNT Editorial on Super Secret Fire Fighters

This Tacoma News Tribune editorial describes the ridiculous extent to which the Tacoma Fire Department goes to withhold information about fires. The department cites a federal health-care regulation as grounds for, among other things, not even saying whether it rescued anyone. From a burning building, broadcast on TV, with loads of witnesses. Nope. Tacoma Fire claims it's protecting the "privacy" of those rescued--or not rescued, they really won't say.

Monday, May 19, 2008

! State Auditor's Public Records Performance Audit Is Out !

The State Auditor's Office conducted an amazing and thorough performance audit of 30 state and local agencies of varying sizes across the state to assess their compliance with the Public Records Act. The Auditor's Office produced this very nice report today.

Holy smokes. You should read this. It describes individual agencies' performance but also discusses trends, statistics, and patterns.

Quite a few journalists read og-blog. We humbly suggest to our media readers that this audit report is chock full of news stories. The agencies audited are all over state so there's plenty of local interest for a newspaper in just about every corner of the state.

UPDATES: Chris Mulick of the Tri-City Herald writes this about the performance audit report. The Seattle Times has this piece. The Olympian has this piece.

Ladenburg: Recording Executive Sessions Requires Too Much Technology

John Ladenburg is running for Attorney General against the incumbent, Rob McKenna. Running against a popular incumbent means coming up with some creative issues separating you from the incumbent.

McKenna supported the bill to require the recording of executive sessions. Ladenburg doesn't. Here's a portion of a story from The (Vancouver) Columbian:

"[Ladenburg] parts ways with McKenna on one issue the incumbent championed in the 2008 session — requiring local governments to tape their executive sessions to provide backup evidence if they are accused of violating the state’s open public meetings law. The bill, hotly opposed by many legislators from both parties, failed to pass, and Ladenburg said it 'would not be a priority for me.' For one thing, he said, it would be expensive to implement, because a simple tape recorder cannot distinguish among voices. 'The superior courts tried it, but it didn’t work,' he said. 'The technology required is akin to studio technology.' If an audio tape is going to be used as evidence, he said, 'You’d better know who said it and when.'"

The purpose of recording executive sessions is not to prove voice prints with 100% accuracy like on CSI. It's to allow a judge to see if the topics covered in executive session were legally allowed or not. Besides, if a recording showed seeming Open Public Meetings Act violations and the question of the identity of individual voices arose, there are simple ways to determine this. Like playing the recording in a deposition and asking the official, "Is that your voice?" Pretty simple. No "studio technology" required.

Ladenburg's strained excuse for not wanting to record executive sessions reminds us of another county official's: Taping (reel-to-reel, presumably) would take up too much storage space in county buildings.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kitsap Sun Editorial on Open Gov't and Forum

The Kitsap Sun writes this editorial on open government, how it affects Kitsap-area residents, and announcing the May 21 open government forum in Bremerton.

One of the forum panelists will be Allied Law Group's own Michele Earl-Hubbard.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Story on Legal-Invoice Victory

The Olympia writes this piece on West v. Thurston County, the recent Court of Appeals case holding that the county's outside-counsel legal invoices are subject to disclosure. The story notes that this case is the first to apply a new law specifically passed to deal with the disclosure of legal invoices.

It Happens All the Time, It's Just Really Hard to Prove

Seems that a public record that a Florida agency swore up and down didn't exist ... you know.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Saying It Don't Make It So

Abe Lincoln supposedly used the following riddle to make a point. He would ask "How many legs does a dog have if you count its tail as a leg?" People would count up the four legs, add the tail, and answer "Five." "Nope," Honest Abe would say. "Four. Because you can call a tail a leg, but saying it don't make it so."

With that in mind, here is a story about the mayor of Detroit, who is under indictment for lying in a police whistle blower trial about whether he used his city phone to send sexual text messages to his girlfriend. Today the Mayor issued an edict that from now on text messages on city phones are "private" and not subject to Michigan's open records laws.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

(Open Gov't) Okie from Muskogee

Merle Haggard made Muskogee, Oklahoma famous in his song "Okie from Muskogee." The song became an anthem for traditional values in the turbulence of the 1960s.

Why would og-blog readers care about Muskogee, OK? The town has a new mayor. He's 19 years old. And he campaigned on a platform of open government.

We would argue that open government is a traditional American value.

P.S. A trivial (but semi-interesting fact): Greg Overstreet has spent some time in Muskogee, OK because it is the headquarters of the Creek Indian Nation, of which he is a proud enrolled citizen.

UP Fire Chief Pick Might Have Violated Open Meetings Law

The TNT writes this editorial about the University Place fire district's pick of a new chief. It certainly appears that the new chief was selected before the open meeting.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Updated: Sunshine Committee Chaos

This story from the Spokesman-Review describes the on-going antics of the Sunshine Committee.

Update: Here's an interesting quote in the TNT political blog from an agricultural-industry lobbyist who is trying to keep some exemptions from disclosure for that industry. He told the Sunshine Committee that the group is:

"a cynical political exercise pandering to a public perception that there should be openness in government." (emphasis added)

Yes. He said that.

The need for open government is merely a "public perception"? Is that because closed governments have such a swell history of treating people well? Name one. Anywhere in the world. At any point in human history.

A "perception" huh? We could have sworn that open government was actually the law--passed via initiative with a 72.06% "yes" vote.

Those silly little members of the public, thinking government should be open. What pipe dream will those rascally citizens think of next? Don't those little people know who is in charge?

Updated: Great New Case on Disclosure of Agency Attorney Invoices

Updated: The Olympian's Politics Blog covers the West decision and quotes og-blog. Here's the original posting on og-blog:


Division II of the Court of Appeals issued this great decision today in West v. Thurston County.

It involves a request for Thurston County's outside-counsel legal invoices in a sexual harassment suit. In response to requests for these very records, the Legislature passed a special law saying, in essence, turn these records over. The County's outside lawyer, Michael Patterson, still fought to prevent disclosure. Now the County owes the requestor penalties and costs, and must also (ironically) pay the legal invoices from Michael Patterson for defending this appeal.

Oh, well. It really isn't anyone's money.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Strange Bedfellows Brief Gets National Attention

This piece comes from Poynter Online, a national journalism site. It discusses the friend-of-the-court brief filed by numerous media entities in the BIAW deleted email case.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Editorial on Idaho Ex-Governor's Records

The Spokesman-Review writes this editorial about former Idaho Governor Kempthorne's apparent refusal to allow the public to see his gubernatorial papers.
Says the S-R:

"The records are, after all, a product of the service Kempthorne performed on the public's behalf.

"The former governor's lawyer now says some of those documents might be exempt from disclosure and the past 24 months haven't been enough time to vet them to make sure that legitimately secret papers aren't released inadvertently. But Kempthorne seems to have a bias toward secrecy. His first instinct upon leaving Boise was to turn the records over to the University of Idaho to be sealed for 25 years. That's what he did with the records from his term in the U.S. Senate."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

City Settles CFJ Open Meetings Case

The City of Ridgefield settled with the Center for Justice in an Open Public Meetings Act enforcement case for just over $7,000 in attorneys fees and costs reports The (Vancouver) Columbian. The City will also pay $900 to charity in lieu of OPMA civil penalties.

This is the first settlement in the five Center for Justice cases filed during Sunshine Week. Settlements in most of the other cases are expected soon.

The Center for Justice's goal in filing these cases was to highlight the open meetings problems in the state, enforce the law in specific cases, and deter other violations. Most local governments involved in the first round of suits understand that it is in their (taxpayers') best interest to quickly and efficiently end these cases.

Note: Allied Law Group represents the Center for Justice in these cases.

Court Prevents Disclosure of Bainbridge Police Records

A judge in Kitsap County issued a court order preventing the release of reports prepared by other police agencies on the conduct of a Bainbridge police officer, reports the Bainbridge Notebook.

The public has an interest, to put it mildly, in knowing whether police investigations of other police are done properly.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Strange Bedfellows: Media Groups Join BIAW on Deleted Email Brief

This posting from The Olympian's political blog describes a friend-of-the-court brief filed in support of the Building Industry Association of Washington by:
  • Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington (state's 22 daily newspapers)
  • Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (state's 140 or so weekly newspapers)
  • Washington Association of Broadcasters (TV and radio)
  • Society of Environmental Journalists

Here is a link to the media's friend-of-the-court brief (without the voluminous exhibits).

What do BIAW and the media groups have in common? Simple. Wanting access to government emails to keep government accountable. So the media groups filed a friend of the court brief in the state Supreme Court asking it to take BIAW's deleted email case.

Once again: open-government unites those who otherwise have little in common. It transcends ideology and partisanship.

Note: Allied Law Group represents BIAW in this case.