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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.

TNT Asks Supreme Court to Review Judge Records Case

The Tacoma News-Tribune asked the state Supreme Court to review a ruling on whether the Federal Way Municipal Court must release a report allegedly concerning a hostile workplace at the court. This story describes the TNT's request for expedited review.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Public Records Show ... DSHS Didn't Check on Girl on Suicide Watch

KING 5 has this story about allegations that a 15-year old girl in DSHS care and under a suicide watch was left unattended for 11 hours. She hanged herself. KING 5 says DSHS regulations required it to check in on her every five minutes and that DSHS staff lied about doing it.

How was KING 5 able to report this story? You guessed it: "According to internal documents obtained by the KING 5 Investigators, two counselors filled out logs saying the checks had been made."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Missouri Governor Sued Over Destroyed Emails

Well, it had to happen. This posting from the State Sunshine and Open Records blog describes (with links) the suit by the Missouri Attorney General against the Missouri Governor over the destruction of emails. The piece also describes suits and soon-to-be suits against other elected officials for destroying emails.

Not A Lot of News Lately

For whatever reason, there hasn't been too much open-government news in Washington for about a week. Don't think og-blog is kicking back. No way.

Be sure to send us links to stories you find.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Animal Control Company Subject to Public Records Act

The Tri-City Herald reports that an animal control company, which was the exclusive animal control service provider for some cities, was found by the Court of Appeals to be an "agency" subject to the Public Records Act.

Here is the opinion.