Sign up for the Open Government eNewsletter
We warmly welcome your thoughts on og-blog and especially welcome your emails with suggested postings and links to interesting stories and court cases. If you have something to say about open government in Washington State, sending it to og-blog is probably the best way to get it out. Don’t hesitate to contact us at

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."