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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.