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Friday, March 28, 2008

(Everett) Herald Editorial on Searchable State-Spending Database

The (Everett) Herald writes this great editorial on the searchable state-spending database.

We still can't believe something this sensible passed the Legislature.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

UPDATED: School District Decides to Open Meetings

The Central Kitsap School District originally said committee meetings of the school board were closed to the public. Then Tim Ford, the Attorney General's Open Government Ombudsman, sent a letter to the District outlining why this was illegal. The District listened and decided to open its committee meetings.

This is good because some might have been considering litigation to achieve the same result. Now the District won't need to pay attorneys fees and penalties--and the public can attend meetings as the law requires.

UPDATE: The Kitsap Sun writes this editorial about the school district's decision to follow the law.

(Everett) Herald Story on State-Spending Searchable Database

Here's a story on the spending database.

Puyallup Herald Story on Real-Life Experiences of Records Requestors

The Puyallup Herald writes this interesting story on what real people face when requesting public records. There should be more stories like this--focusing on real people.

(Longview) Daily News Editorial on Sushine Committee

The (Longview) Daily News writes this editorial on the Sunshine Committee's first recommendation to repeal exemptions from disclosure.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bellingham Herald's Case Study in How Lame FOIA Is

If you think Washington's Public Records Act has problems then read this.

"Local Governments Gone Wild"

You can't beat that line. It's in The (Vancouver) Columbian's editorial about the City of LaCenter and the State Auditor's Office finding of Open Public Meetings Act violations. Here's more of the editorial:

"It’s becoming a trend. When local governments get caught violating open-government laws, the typical reaction goes something like this: 'Oh, but we’re not like that anymore. We’ve corrected all the problems. Nothing to worry your little heart about.'

"Fine. Prove it. Schedule a refresher course. Bring in outside experts to conduct a workshop for elected officials."

Judge Upholds Prisoner's Public Records Requests, Even If They're Harassing or Creepy

The AP reports on a ruling that a prisoner who asked for photos and work schedules for judges and prosecutors won his Public Records Act case. The prosecutor's office sought a court order prohibiting the prisoner from making further requests because, while the records were not exempt from disclosure, providing them to the prisoner would not "serve the public interest."

The story quotes Allied Law Group's Michele Earl-Hubbard: "I completely understand the concerns of the employees," she said. "But there's noting in the statute that gave the court the authority to do that. There's not a right to stop people from asking for public records in the future."

Sunshine Committee Issues First Recommendations

The Sunshine Committee has tackled two of the 300 or so exemptions. Here is the AP story.

It's a start.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More on Open Meetings Case Filed Against Fire District

This story from the Nisqually Valley News, a weekly paper in the Yelm area, describes in detail the recent Center for Justice suit against the Yelm Fire District to enforce the Open Public Meeting Act.

The story quotes Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sunshine Week: Searchable State-Spending Database

This op-ed piece by Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center appeared in the Bellingham Herald.

This searchable database will do more than many people realize to shine the light of public scrutiny on spending abuses. It's probably good that few realize the power of this new law or the Legislature never would have passed it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Police or Public Records? That's the Choice (to Tom Carr)

The P-I's Strange Bedfellows political blog has this very interesting piece. At a panel discussion on open government, apparently Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr implied that providing public records might be so expensive that the city would have to cut vital services like police. According to the piece, Carr said:

"My mayor and council have to decide -- how many police officers is that worth? ... As a lawyer, I can't look the mayor in the face and say, 'Make do with less police officers.'"

The piece goes on to describe the reaction of another panelist, Lynn Kessler:

"State House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, showed great restraint in just mentioning in passing that there is probably something other than police or firefighters in the city's $926 million budget that might be a better target for a cut."

You just can't make this stuff up.

Federal Way Court Documents Released After Suit

The TNT reports that a judge ordered the release of the documents it requested about alleged workplace misconduct at the Federal Way Municipal Court.

A lawyer who represents government agencies and usually is on the side resisting disclosure let me know that his client (the City of Federal) and the newspaper were on the same side, urging disclosure. Duly noted, Ramsey. Thank you.

Sunshine Week: (Longview) Daily News Editorial on Port of Longview Open Meetings Case

The (Longview) Daily News writes this editorial about the case filed this week against the Port of Longview for Open Public Meetings Act violations. The newspaper joined the suit as a plaintiff.

Says The Daily News:

"The legal action also may serve to educate members of government bodies on their obligations under the law governing executive sessions. Although the law is fairly straightforward, the number of reported violations in the state - 460 between Jan. 1, 2004, and Nov. 13, 2007, according to Overstreet - suggest some misunderstanding of its requirements.

"The Daily News believes the port should be held accountable for this action and that's why the newspaper has joined a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Spokane-based public interest group Center for Justice. The suit seeks $100 fines from each of the two commissioners, payment of the plaintiff's legal fees and a court injunction prohibiting future violations of the Open Meetings Act."

Sunshine Week: Olympian Editorial on the Five Open Meetings Cases

The Olympian writes this editorial on the Center for Justice's five Open Public Meetings Act enforcement cases filed statewide this week. Says The Olympian:

"In this week of emphasis on open and transparent government, elected officials across the state have been put on notice that they will be held accountable for their violations of the Open Public Meetings law."

Sunshine Week: Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial on the State of Sunshine

The Yakima Herald-Republic writes this editorial laying out what's wrong and what's being doing done to change it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sunshine Week: Bellingham Herald Editorial

Another good editorial.

Sunshine Week: Newspaper Joins Open Meetings Suit

The (Longview) Daily News will be joining the Center for Justice's open meetings enforcement case against the Port of Longview. Cal FitzSimmons, editor of The Daily News, said:

"We believe the port commissioners clearly acted illegally with this back-room appointment. ... If they had simply acknowledged their mistake it would be easier to understand their error and expect such things not to happen again. However, the commissioners and their legal counsel have made it clear they do not understand or respect open meetings laws. So, we can't be assured they will act appropriately in the future."

Note: Allied Law Group represents The Daily News and Center for Justice in the Port of Longview case so we will not comment on it in og-blog.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Supreme Court Justice Charles Johnson Deserves Praise for His Commitment to Open Government"

We've never seen this before: an election endorsement in March. That's pretty early. But it's well deserved in this case.

The (Centralia) Chronicle writes this editorial endorsing Justice Charles Johnson for re-election to the Supreme Court. It cites Justice Johnson's many, many good open-government rulings.

Full Disclosure: Justice Johnson's campaign treasurer is Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet.

Sunshine Week: (Longview) Daily News Story on Port of Longview Case

Here's a story from The (Longview) Daily News on the Port of Longview OPMA case.

Note the comments in the story from the publisher of the paper.

Sunshine Week: ! Statewide Open Gov't Enforcement Suits !

These two stories, one from the Associated Press and the other from the Spokesman-Review, describe why the Center for Justice filed five Open Public Meetings Act enforcement cases across the state on Monday and why the Center will be filing more open meetings and Public Records Act cases in the coming months and years.

Deterrence. That's why.

Sunshine Week: Yelm Fire District Sued Over Open Meetings

The Olympian writes this piece about one of the Center for Justice's five Open Public Meetings Act enforcement cases filed on Monday.

Note: Allied Law Group represents the Center for Justice in the case so we will not comment on it too much on og-blog.

Sunshine Week: TNT Editorial

A great editorial.

Sunshine Week: Crosscut Article

A good article from Crosscut.

Sunshine Week: (Everett) Herald Editorial

Yet another editorial for Sunshine Week.

Sunshine Week: (Vancouver) Columbian Editorial

Another good one.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sunshine Week: Ridgefield Sued Over Open Meeting Law

The (Vancouver) Columbian writes about the Center for Justice's suit against the City of Ridgefield to enforce the Open Public Meetings Act.

Sunshine Week: UPDATED--Big News For Washington State Is Coming

UPDATE--OK, the big news is that the Center for Justice filed five Open Public Meetings Act cases on March 17, 2008 as part of a state-wide effort to enforce this law. It's part of CFJ's Open Government Accountability Project ("OGAP"). Hence the hint below of "CFJ OGAP".

Rich Roesler of the Spokesman-Review figured out the hint and wrote about it.


Sunshine Week is a national week of events and news stories highlighting the importance of open-government issues. This year Sunshine Week is March 16-22. It's a big deal.

Be looking for lots of news stories and editorials in Washington newspapers during Sunshine Week.

There is some really big news coming. You'll just have to stay tuned to see what it is. Here's a hint: CFJ OGAP.

Sunshine Week: Seattle Times Editorial

Get out the party hats.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunshine Week: Kitsap Sun Editorial

The Kitsap Sun writes this editorial with an important and very direct request to readers: ask politicians asking for your vote where they stand on specific open-government measures.

Sunshine Week: McKenna and Sonntag Op-Eds, Olympian Editorial

Another great Olympian editorial, an op-ed by Attorney General Rob McKenna, and one by State Auditor Brian Sonntag.

Sunshine Week: Skagit Valley Herald Editorial

The Skagit Valley Herald makes a fundamental--and often overlooked--point in this editorial: open government benefits YOU. Says the SVH: "You are the 'public' in public records. 'Open' as applied to public meetings means open to you."

To top it off, the SVH notes that an open-government initiative might be in the works to restore the law to its past strength. And to remind elected officials for whom they work.

Sunshine Week: Polls Show Open Gov't Is a Big Deal With Voters

Politicians: pay attention to this AP story and the poll numbers it contains.

Sunshine Week: Associated Press on Why Gov't Resists Disclosure

This AP story succinctly describes state agencies across the country resisting disclosure, usually to prevent politically undesirable information from getting out.

Sunshine Week: TNT Study of Requests

The Tacoma News-Tribune writes this Sunshine Week story studying the public records process in Pierce and south King counties. Some interesting findings:
  • 97% of the time records are provided instead of withheld
  • records are provided in an average of two weeks

These numbers make sense given that the vast majority of requests are for routine police reports. But when the requestor is a political opponent or the records show misconduct, don't expect a two-week turn around 97% of the time. Expect the agency to delay and attempt to confuse and then, if pushed, say "If you want the records, you'll need to sue us. Good luck with that."

Sunshine Week: Special Og-Blog Features

Sunshine Week is this week (March 16 - 22). This is a national event where those who care about open government highlight the issue with media events and speakers. The Sunshine Week web site is

During Sunshine Week, most newspapers run editorials, guest columns, and stories about open government. There will be so many of them to post on og-blog. We will put them up under the heading "Sunshine Week: ...." so you can find them in the archives column at the right easily.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Spokesman-Review: Record Them Anyway

The Spokesman-Review writes this editorial urging local governments to record their executive sessions anyway, even if the municipalities' lobbyists successfully killed the taping bill this year.

Writes the S-R: "If not, perhaps they could at least explain what they have to hide."

Local governments won't record their executive sessions and they won't lift a finger to explain what the have to hide.

After all, who's going to sue them for an Open Public Meetings Act violation? That never happens ...

Public Records Show ... Fighting Among Partnering Port

The Tacoma News-Tribune, thanks to a public records request, reports on fighting among the Port of Tacoma and Port of Olympia which are supposed to be partners on a huge public works project. The Olympian also reports on it--also via a public records request.

Taxpayers who would be asked to fund the project might like to know what the two partners are saying about each other.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Governor Fighting Attorney General Over Deleted Emails

OK, OK, this isn't a Washington state story, but that's a catchy headline.

The email war is getting really heated in Missouri. Long story short: the Republican Governor deleted a bunch of emails, the Democratic Attorney General (who is running against the Republican Governor) is investigating whether any laws were broken, and now the Republican Governor has requested all the Democratic AG's emails. Read all about it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Open Gov't Educational Materials For High-Schoolers

Mike Fancher of the Seattle Times blogs about an open-government insert in the Times and P-I designed to educate high-schoolers about the topic. Good idea. Civics has been abandoned in schools and what passes for history teaching is pretty anemic, so efforts like this are welcomed.

Open-Gov't Legislative Score Card

The fine people at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation issued this legislative score card assessing the good, bad, and the ugly of legislators' 2008 record on open government.

Very interesting. You will notice bi-partisanship on the good list and the bad list.

TNT Editorial on Court Withholding Records

This editorial from the Tacoma News Tribune describes why the Federal Way Municipal Court judge is wrong to sue to prevent disclosure of a report about workplace issues at the court.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

(Vancouver) Columbian Editorial on Secrecy at Port

The (Vancouver) Columbian writes this stinging editorial against the Port of Camas-Washougal. The State Auditor Office's audit of the port concluded that the agency unlawfully kept the public out of the selection of the developer for a project. But there is more to this than just one project:

"On the heels of a scalding state audit of the (port), there can be no mistaking the bottom line: Elected officials and top staff people at ports, fire districts, city halls and other governments should think long and hard about keeping secrets from the taxpayers, voters and residents. Instead, engage them.

"And there’s this implicit message from state Auditor Brian Sonntag to citizens: When secrecy is a problem, fight back."

The editorial then describes how another port in the area passed a tax increase without public input but then the voters rose up and repealed it--and un-elected a port commissioner in the process.

School Board to Release Names of Superintendent Candidates

Whoa. Yet another story of a local government deciding to be more transparent.

Check og-blog tomorrow to see if the Earth has stopped rotating. Some local government officials and their attorneys claim that taking steps like the school board did here will be the end of civilization. We'll keep you posted.

County Now Accepts Public Records Requests by E-Mail

Grays Harbor County, like many local governments, refused to accept public records requests by e-mail. That is until the Attorney General's Open-Government Ombudsman, Tim Ford, wrote the county a letter outlining why a government agency must accept requests by email. This (Aberdeen) Daily World story describes what happened.

Judge Sues to Block Release of Public Records

The Tacoma News-Tribune reports that a Federal Way Municipal Court judge is suing to block release of a report about allegations of a hostile working environment at the court. The Tacoma News-Tribune is seeking the records. Why?

"'This is basically a case of an allegation of inappropriate conduct by public officials,' said David Zeeck, executive editor of The News Tribune. 'When the taxpayers spend money to investigate, I think they’re entitled to see the results – good or bad.'"

Monday, March 10, 2008

! Tim Ford to Run for Court of Appeals !

Tim Ford, the Attorney General's open-government ombudsman, announced today that he will run for the Court of Appeals, Division II, District 2. This covers Thurston, Mason, Kitsap, Jefferson, Clallam, and Gray Harbor counties.

Ford is running against incumbent Robin Hunt. Ford cites Judge Hunt's open-government rulings as a major reason for his challenge.

We know Tim Ford. He is extremely well qualified.

More information on Tim Ford's race is at

Friday, March 7, 2008

House Approves State-Spending Searchable Database Bill

The Washington Policy Center proudly reports that the House voted 94-0 to pass the bill to provide a searchable database on state spending. The Senate previously passed a very similar bill. Now the Senate needs to vote to concur with the House's version and then it's passed. Next stop is the Governor for her signature.

Police Union Seeks Injunction to Prevent Disclosure of Public Record

This report from the Kitsap Sun details a case filed by the Bainbridge Island police union to prevent disclosure of an investigation of one of its officers.

(Vancouver) Columbian Editorial: Tape Executive Sessions Anyway

The (Vancouver) Columbian writes this editorial urging local governments to tape their executive sessions despite the failure of the taping bill.

Tri-City Herald on Open Courts

Access to court proceedings and court records is the forgotten open-government right, overshadowed by the Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act. But open-court rights are in the state constitution (see Art. I, sec. 10).

The Tri-City Herald editorializes about open court records in a case of particular interest in their area. In the process they describe why open courts are important.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Yakima Herald-Republic: We'll Be Asking Candidates About Taping Bill

The Yakima Herald-Republic writes this editorial laying out the case for the taping bill and then very clearly informing candidates seeking their endorsement that the taping bill will be a topic of discussion. Local government officials' position on the taping bill will also become a topic:

"[W]e'll be particularly interested in where legislative candidates vying for office this fall stand on openness in government in general and taped executive sessions in particular. ...

"Next time around we would expect strong support from those in our area city and county governments when they're apprised of the fact that taping can actually be in their best interests."

Politicians have grown accustomed to going along with anti-openness special interests in Olympia and then coming home to their their local papers and expecting glowing endorsements. This won't work anymore. The hysterical opposition to the taping bill was so far-fetched that it set off some very reasonable people.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Time For an Initiative? Oh, Yes

This fabulous column by Kate Riley of the Seattle Times makes the case for a public records and open meetings initiative to fix the recent set backs from the Supreme Court and legislature. Says Riley:

"The citizens' window into local government workings has been sliding steadily shut.
All over the windowpanes are the fingerprints of a majority of the state's Supreme Court justices, state lawmakers doing favors for their local-government lobbyist pals and the governor.

"Time to prop that window back open with a heavy stick of a voter initiative."

You will be hearing more about an initiative in the coming months.

P.S. The column quotes Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet.

Crosscut Profile of State Auditor Brian Sonntag

Sonntag rules. Read why.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

TNT: 125 Years of Fighting for Open Government

The Tacoma News-Tribune is celebrating its 125th year and writes this interesting history of how the paper--even way back when--fought for open government and why it matters. This might be the best explanation of the importance of open government we've ever seen.

Describing the fight for open government as a campaign, the TNT writes:

"Newspapers such as The News Tribune are that campaign’s foot soldiers. No other institution knocks on government doors day after day, requesting public records, attending public meetings and pushing elected officials toward the light.

"Advancing the cause of open government is a value, not a business model.

"Stories about newspapers prying open sealed records or exposing illegal meetings rarely cause papers to fly off the racks.

"But this newspaper bird-dogs public agencies all the same because something important is at stake. Access to public records and meetings, and exposure of the private machinations of officialdom, are essential to an informed and engaged community. The News Tribune is the public’s eyes and ears; we are dedicated to providing information that will allow citizens to retain sovereignty over their government."

Yep. That's what's at stake.

Anonymous Sources Not Common

During the debate on the reporter shield bill, which allows reporters to shield the identity of anonymous sources from forced disclosure in court, some claimed that the media routinely uses anonymous sources. Not so. This piece from Sarah Jenkins at the Yakima Herald-Republic describes their rigorous standards for using anonymous sources.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Rep. Williams Receives Key Award

Rep. Brendan Williams (D-Olympia) received the Washington Coalition for Open Government's Key Award for his work on open-government legislation this session. This story in The Olympian describes the legislation and the award.