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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Auburn School Board Opts for Openness

The Tacoma News-Tribune reports that the Auburn School Board scrapped its earlier plan to invite "select" citizens to a closed-to-the-public executive session to interview candidates for school superintendent. Instead, the board will hold the interviews in public.

Why? "They didn’t want to go to court." Looks like deterrence is working, at least a little.

The TNT writes this editorial on Auburn's good decision. It says, in part:

"Give the Auburn School Board credit for reaffirming its commitment to transparency in a meaningful way: The board is throwing the selection process open to the public sooner than many school districts do. The board decided to do as the Tacoma School District recently did and invite the public to come meet the six semifinalists expected to visit next week.
In this, good sense and respect for open government prevailed."

Monday, April 28, 2008

County Does Well in State Auditor Performance Audit

This story from the Bellingham Herald describes Whatcom County's generally good marks in the State Auditor's performance audit of public records.

Og-blog passes along good news about local government when we can.

Friday, April 25, 2008

"The Duh Defense"

The Spokesman-Review writes this great editorial on the requirement in Idaho law that a person "knowingly" violate the state's open meetings laws before a violation can be found. The editorial provides an illustration of the process for determining a violation of Idaho's law:

"Did you know you must post a notice 24 hours before holding an executive session?"

"No way! Really?"

"Did you know that specific reasons for holding a closed session must be stated in advance?"

"News to me!"

"OK. Case closed."

City Might Ask For Performance Audit

The City of Yakima might ask the State Auditor's Office to conduct a performance audit of the city. Whoa. A few (defensive) local governments have accused the State Auditor's Office of conducting witch hunts to find out about ... all the laws they are breaking.

Good for the City of Yakima.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Even Idaho Is Considering Improvements to Open Meetings Law

Idaho, which is not known as an open-government paradise, is considering legislation to remove the "intentional" violation requirement under their open meetings act. The story is by the Spokesman-Review.

The Idaho Attorney General says in the story that proving members of a governing body knew the meeting was illegal is hard and is therefore a roadblock to bringing open meetings enforcement cases. He's right.

Good for Idaho.

Tri-Cities Open Gov't Forum

The Tri-City Herald writes this editorial about open government and an April 24th forum on the topic.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

! Public Records Act Classes !

Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group will be offering practical and intensive classes on the Public Records Act.

The classes will be statewide this spring and summer. Contact Greg to suggest a class in your area.

The first class is on May 13, 2008 in Olympia.

Requestors and agencies need different information from a class. The classes reflect this by breaking into two separate half-day sessions. The first is for public records requestors (regular citizens, journalists, activists, trade associations, plaintiff's attorneys) emphasizing how to get records. The second session is for state and local government agencies emphasizing how to comply with the Act.

Here is the May 13 Olympia requestor class announcement and the agency class announcement, both of which contain registration information.

For lawyers, CLE credit has been sought.

A helpful handout of reference materials will be included. The classes will introduce the soon-to-be-legendary "Top Ten Myths of the Public Records Act," and a lightning round of "PRA Trivia" complete with (cheap) prizes.

Tacoma School Board Open Meetings Audit Finding

The Tacoma News-Tribune reports that the State Auditor's Office made an audit finding of an Open Public Meetings Act violation against the Tacoma School District.

Here is the audit finding.

TNT Editorial on Public Records

The TNT makes the point that citizens wouldn't be getting large amounts of money from suing local governments under the Public Records Act if the agencies merely followed the law.

Monday, April 21, 2008

TNT Story on State Auditor's Public Records Performance Audit

Here is another story on the State Auditor's performance audit on public records.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Puyallup Takes Action to Improve Openness

We give you good news on local government when we can.

The Puyallup Herald reports that the city of Puyallup has taken some steps to improve their public records process. Great.

Other local governments should take note: Improving your process doesn't mean the Earth will stop revolving. It can be done.

DOC Pays $101,500 Public Records Settlement

The Department of Corrections agreed to pay an inmate $101,500 to settle two public records cases, reports the Bellingham Herald.

Friday, April 18, 2008

State Won't Release List of Litter Warning Recipients

Hunter George of the Tacoma News-Tribune posts this on the State's refusal to provide a list of the people receiving a litter warning letter.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Municipal Judge Records to Remain Secret Pending Appeal

The Tacoma News-Tribune writes that a report about an alleged hostile work environment at Federal Way Municipal Court will remain secret during the 12-18 month appeal of the lower court's decision to release the record.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

California's Experience With Shielding Police Identities

This very interesting story describes how almost one million California police officers and other government workers get to have their identities shielded from license plate registration information. In other words, the license plate says it is registered to an undisclosed person.

Undercover police and judges--that would make sense. But almost one million? From 1,800 agencies, including museum guards? Museum guards?

The result is that one million people can't get tickets for failing to pay tolls, having only person in HOV lanes, parking violations, or running red lights in camera-equipped intersections. That would be cool.

Oh, and the state wants $8,442 to provide the records merely showing the number of identity-shielded license plates.

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler on the Taping Bill

The Peninsula Daily News writes this story on Rep. Lynn Kessler's vow to pass the taping bill. Her remarks are fabulous reading. This story shows why the open government community adores Lynn Kessler.

TNT Editorial on School Superintendent Picks

This Tacoma News-Tribune editorial was published on April 10th, when og-blog was taking a break. Better late than never.

Olympian Editorial on Thurston County's Freak Out

You might remember that Thurston County Commissioner Diane Oberquell lashed out at the State Auditor's Office for asking for public records as part of the Auditor's performance audits on public records.

Turns out Thurston County didn't do super well in the performance audit findings.

This Olympian editorial describes the situation.

City Decides to Stop "Playing Word Games" With Public Records Request

This story from the Yakima Herald-Republic describing its attempts to get a copy of a settlement agreement between the City of Selah and its former police chief speaks volumes for what goes on every day in Washington state.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Og-Blog Is Going on Spring Break Until April 14

Hey, fighting for open government takes a toll. Og-blog will be recharging the batteries for a while.

Story on Tim Ford Running for Court of Appeals

The Olympian writes this piece on the candidacy of Tim Ford, the Attorney General's Open Government Ombudsman, for the Court of Appeals.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Port of Longview Settles Open Meetings Case

The Port of Longview was one of the five Open Public Meetings Act enforcement cases filed two weeks ago by the Center for Justice. Here is some background.

The Port is settling the case quickly, reports The (Longview) Daily News (who also joined the suit as a co-plaintiff).

Note: Allied Law Group represented The (Longview) Daily News and Center for Justice in this suit so we won't comment on it in og-blog.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Executive Sessions in Whoville

Rich Roesler, blogging for the Spokesman-Review, hits the nail on the head with this one.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

! State Auditor's Performance Audit on Public Records Compliance !

Here is a draft of the State Auditor's Office performance audit of 30 state and local government agencies' Public Records Act compliance.

Some agencies did very well. Some did OK. Other agencies did horribly. It is amazing to see the different responses to the same requests from various agencies.

The report suggests concrete ways agencies can improve their public records performance. The report is a blueprint for how to fix many of the disclosure problems in the state.

Apparently the report is a draft. The Yakima Herald-Republic ran a story about the draft today so og-blog asked for a copy of it from the State Auditor's Office. The State Auditor's Office promptly emailed a PDF of it. No waiting, no denials, no run-around, no $1275 "inspection fee." Just hitting the "send" button on an email. It's like the State Auditor's Office is in the 21st century or something.

Spokesman-Review Story on State Auditor Public Records Performance Audit

Another story on the performance audit results.

Yakima County Does Poorly in State Auditor Performance Audit

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports that Yakima County rated very poorly in the State Auditor's public records performance audit.

The County accuses the State Auditor's Office of lying. The State Auditor's Office did not receive responses to several test requests to the County; the County claims it has the responses and the State Auditor's Office is out to get them. Seriously. Read it for yourself.

It would be interesting to get the electronic versions of those responses (presumably they are Word documents) and see when they were created. That would establish if they existed before the State Auditor's report. This is yet another example of why electronic records, as opposed to paper ones, shed additional accountability light on government.

State Auditor Public Records Performance Audit Story

This story from The Olympian describes the State Auditor's performance audit on public records.

The story notes that Thurston County would not allow its public records officer to be interviewed one-on-one by the State Auditor's Office. Hmmm... wonder why.

State-Spending Searchable Database--Signed Into Law

Nice work, Washington Policy Center.

Puyallup Says It's Committed to Open Gov't

We don't limit our postings to those stories negatively portraying local government.

Here is an op-ed piece by the City of Puyallup saying they have changed how they approach public records and open meetings. This is welcome news.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin Editorial on Sunshine Committee Recommendations

Another editorial on the Sunshine Committee's year-long work of recommending the repeal of two of the about 300 exemptions from disclosure.

TNT Editorial on Sunshine Committee's First Recommendations

The Tacoma News-Tribune writes this editorial about the Sunshine Committee's recommendation during it's roughly year of existence to repeal two exemptions from disclosure. Referring to the 300 or so remaining exemptions, the TNT writes:

"Two down, 298-plus to go."