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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bill Proposed to Create "Office of Open Records"

A good idea.

But the devil is in the details.

If this bill attempted to take away citizens' right to enforce the Public Records Act or Open Public Meetings Act in court, it would be an abomination and will die a painful (legislative) death. The current draft does not take away access to courts. We will be watching. We have no reason to believe the Attorney General or State Auditor want to take away citizens' access to court, but local government lobbyists and others hostile to open government do.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Public Records Show ... State Officials Nervous About Seattle Mayoral Race

This story in the Seattle Times--made possible by access to public records--shows that state officials who wanted an underground tunnel in Seattle were nervous that "their" candidate wasn't winning.

Perhaps not earth-shattering, but the emails are an interesting window the public can have into how government really works.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The (Longview) Daily News Editorial on Pres. Obama's Opennes Record

This editorial from The (Longview) Daily News describes President Obama's less-than-stellar track record so far on open government.

The Fight for WaMu Documents

This Puget Sound Business Journal article describes that newspaper's attempts to learn about why Washington Mutual was shut down by bank regulators.

The federal bank regulators are not being helpful.

Monday, December 14, 2009

US Supreme Court to Review Public Employee Privacy

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case on whether public employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the use of publicy-financed communication devices, in this case texting.

Thanks to Rusty for sending this to us.

Spokesman-Review Editorial on U.S. Supreme Court Case on Initiative Signatures

The Spokesman-Review writes this editorial on the whole R-71 thing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

An Elected Official Gets It

Jefferson County PUD Commissioner Wayne King understands for whom he works.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Oregon Jumps on Open Gov't Ombudsman Bandwagon

Hey, Oregon, nice to see you're trying to be like your neighbor to the north. But, seriously, this is good news.

Next maybe you can let people pump their own gas.

"Federal workshop on openness closed to the public"

We couldn't make this stuff up even if we tried.

Thanks to Kokanee Bill for finding this.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jefferson County Violating First Amendment?

This story from the Port Townsend Leader describes the policy of the Jefferson County Commissioners to allow the public to speak at commissioner meetings ... except not to criticize county employees.

Tim Ford of the Attorney General's Office says this raises serious constitutional questions.

That's an understatement.

Jefferson County, by the way, is the home of the "pizza privacy" exemption from disclosure under the Public Records Act.

Op-Ed in Port Townsend Leader on Open Gov't

Mike Fancher writes this op-ed on open government.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Columbian Column on Public Records Administrative Remedy

This column by Tom Koenninger of The (Vancouver) Columbian describes why it would be a good idea to have a state agency provide a voluntary administrative remedy--an efficient public records "small claims court"--for public records disputes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Op-Ed Blasts Whatcom Ruling on Destroying Records

This op-ed in the Bellingham Herald by David Seago of the Washington Coalition for Open Government strongly criticizes a recent ruling by a Whatcom County judge that an arbitrator can order the destruction of a later-requested public record.

NOTE: Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group represented the Bellingham Herald in the case.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bill Proposed to Require Disclosure of Initiative Signatures

The Olympian's Brad Shannon reports that Rep. Sam Hunt will introduce a bill in the 2010 legislative session to require the disclosure of signatures on initiatives.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cities Get Money to Digitize Some Public Records

The Wenatchee World reports that some cities in that area received grants to digitize and microfilm some public records.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More on Initiative Signature Litigation

The (Tacoma) News Tribune carries this story by The Olympian's Brad Shannon on some of the litigation involved in Tim Eyman's efforts to prevent the disclosure of signers of past initiatives.

Port of Olympia To Pay $56,000 In Public Records Case

The Olympian reports that the Port of Olympia must pay almost $56,000 in legal fees after losing a Public Records Act case.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bellingham Herald Editorial Blasts Decision on Destroying Public Records

This Bellingham Herald editorial uses unusually sharp language to criticize a Whatcom County Superior Court ruling upholding an arbitrator's ruling (made before a public records request was made) that the City of Bellingham must destroy a public record.

NOTE: Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group represented the Bellingham Herald in this case.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Spokesman Review Editorial on Clean Air Agency Settlement and Need for Taping Law

This editorial from the Spokesman Review describes why a recent $25,000 settlement by the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency of an Open Public Meetings Act case shows that the Legislature should pass a bill requiring the taping of executive sessions.

NOTE: Michele Earl-Hubbard of Allied Law Group represented the citizens group in this case.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Board of Accountancy Blasted for Lack of Accountability

This editorial from The Olympian describes the lack of accountability on the Board of Accountancy, the state agency regulating accountants, and calls for reforms. The Board recently paid $500,000 to settle retaliation and public records lawsuits brought by an accountant.

NOTE: The editorial quotes Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group who represents the accountant who obtained the settlement from the Board.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spokane Air Agency Settles Open Meetings Suit

This story in the Spokesman-Review describes the decision by the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency to settle an Open Public Meetings Act lawsuit brought by the Center for Justice.

NOTE: Michele Earl-Hubbard of Allied Law Group represented the Center for Justice.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Olympian Editorial on New Ombudsman Office

This editorial from The Olympian describes why a new office should be created to give citizens and agencies a quick and inexpensive administrative remedy to obtain public records. Citizens could still go to court if they chose.

Monday, November 9, 2009

TNT Editorial on DSHS Public Records Payout of $525,001

This (Tacoma) News Tribune editorial says it all.

Arizona Supreme Court Ruling on Disclosure of Electronic Records (YEAH!) Analyzed

This story from the Arizona Republic looks at the recent and magnificent ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court on the disclosure of electronic records.

Social Networking Sites for Gov't: Public Records and Records Retention Issues

This Kitsap Sun article discusses the thorny Public Records Act and retention issues when government agencies use social networking sites like Facebook.

Here's the deal: Government is different than private people and businesses. Government is not a teenager on Facebook, or a business using Twitter to generate business. Government can tax and imprison; teenagers and businesses cannot. Government is subject to laws that allow the boss--the People--to know what's going on. Comparing government to private entities is not useful when it comes to transparency. To see what the government is doing, all you need is a public records request. To see what a private person is doing, you need a search warrant and probable cause. Quite a difference. Thank goodness.

R-71 Going to SCOTUS?

This Seattle P-I story looks at whether the Supreme Court of the United States (called "SCOTUS" by law geeks) will be deciding the R-71 disclosure case.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Puplic Records Show ... Man Accused of Beating Disabled Boy Was Innocent

A man was accused of beating a disabled boy at a library in the Tri Cities. The accused man's criminal defense attorney made a public records request for the surveillance tape at the library.

The tape showed the man was innocent.

It is interesting that at first the library claimed the tape could be withheld from disclosure because it was a "library record." The accused had to go to court and obtain an order compelling disclosure. Ironically, the law designed to shield the books one checks out at a library from public scrutiny, which is to protect individual liberties, was initially used to ... deprive someone of his individual liberties of being free from criminal charges for a crime he did not commit.

City of Vancouver Fined in Public Records Act Case

The (Vancouver) Columbian reports that the City of Vancouver was fined $1,790 in a public records case but that the judge did not find any bad faith on the part of the City.

The story does not address the larger source of a money pay out for the City, the mandatory award of attorneys' fees to the requestor who prevailed.

Thanks to avid og-blog reader "Kokanee Bill" for this story.

Pizza Gathering Apparently Not an Illegal Meeting

You have to love a news story that leads with this:

"A gathering of five Sumner City Council members caused a flurry of activity in late October, including a police report and an anonymous anchovy pizza delivery."

Read all about it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jefferson County: "Closed Gov't Capital of Washington"

This brutal editorial in the Port Townsend Leader calls out Jefferson County officials by name who have been hiding public records. Excellent reading.

The editorial discusses Jefferson County Commissioner Sullivan's costly stand for "pizza privacy." The background on that issue is covered here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Walla Walla Union Bulletin Editorial on Release of Metadata

This is a great editorial and explains an otherwise complicated issue very clearly.

New Agency to Hear Public Records Complaints?

This article in The Olympian looks at a recommendation of the Attorney General's/State Auditor's task force on creating an administrative remedy for public records disputes.

George Will Column on Why R-71 Signatures Should Be Withheld

This column by George Will argues for the withholding of the R-71 signatures.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mechling: Great Court Ruling on Electronic Records

The Court of Appeals decided Mechling v. City of Monroe. It's a really good decision. See for yourself why.

Arizona Supreme Court: Metadata Is a Public Record

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled today that metadata in a public-agency email is subject to disclosure. Specifically, the court held "that if a public entity maintains a public record in an electronic format, then the electronic version, including any embedded metadata, is subject to disclosure under our public records law." This is the first state supreme court opinion in the country to rule that metadata is available for public review.

This decision overrules a horrible decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals that held the opposite. Local governments in Washington and elsewhere were pointing to the horrible decision as a reason to deny access to electronic records. Not any more.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Public Records Show ... How Badly Seattle Will Be Destroyed in an Earthquake

KOMO TV reports that the state Department of Transportation reluctantly released a video simulation the agency made showing the potential destruction of a 7.0 quake 20 miles from Seattle. Reluctantly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yakima Herald-Republic on Recent Open Gov't Cases

This Yakima Herald-Republic editorial describes some of the troubling recent court rulings on the Public Records Act.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Split Decision in Open Meetings Case Against Arlington School District

This story from The (Everett) Herald describes an initial ruling in an Open Public Meetings Act case against the Arlington School District brought by the Center for Justice.

(For background on the case, click here.)

The ruling: the District violated the OPMA 21 times but not intentionally, and the suit was not frivolous. The District's "study sessions" which occurred 100% of the time (41 out of 41 times) before an open meeting, were not a "regular" meeting. Instead, the judge ruled they were all "special meetings" and special meeting notice was provided. The question of whether a "dinner" meeting and three "retreats" were illegal meetings remains for trial.

This case is not over.

NOTE: Greg Overstreet of the Allied Law Group represented the Center for Justice.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

UPDATED 2: Accountant Wins $500,000 Settlement from Board of Accountancy Where Public Records Played Key Role

Allied Law Group is proud to report that a client of the firm, Ed Clark, CPA, received a $500,000 settlement in a series of cases alleging retaliation by the Board of Accountancy. Public records played a key role in the outcome.

Here is The Olympian's story on the case.

The Seattle Times piece is here.

It is an amazing story. It shows that public records can save the day. And why agencies doing bad things hate the Public Records Act.

UPDATE 1: Looks like the Governor's Office is looking at a "consultant" to look at the Board of Accountancy. See the reaction to that.

UPDATE 2: The Board of Accountancy will investigate itself in the wake of paying out $500,000 to settle retaliation claims. The State Auditor says he will speak with the Governor and Attorney General about it.

Spokesman Review Editorial on Putting the Courts Under the Public Records Act

The Spokesman-Review writes this editorial describing why the courts should be required to comply with the Public Records Act after the Koenig II decision.

A Few Open Gov't Bright Spots

This column by the Seattle Times' Kate Riley describes some of the recent good news for open government.

TNT Editorial on Public Records Act Applying to Courts

The (Tacoma) News Tribune writes this characteristically pointed and crystal clear editorial on why the Public Records Act should apply to the courts.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Background on Open Meetings Case Against Arlington School District

This (Everett) Herald piece describes the background of the Center for Justice's case under the Open Public Meetings Act against the Arlington School District.

Seattle Times' Bruce Ramsey: Withhold Initiative Signatures

Seattle Times columnist Bruce Ramsey says initiative signatures should be withheld. He advocates an amendment to the Public Records Act to allow this.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Pizza Privacy" Guardian Tells His Side of the Story

Jefferson County Commissioner David Sullivan, who claimed what amounted to the "pizza privacy" exemption from disclosure of his County phone records and cost the County over $40,000 by doing so, writes this piece explaining why he was protecting people from harassment.

This is the same argument Tim Eyman is using.

County Judge Blocks Release of Eyman Petitions

The state court hearing a case about the disclosure of Eyman initiative petitions (other than the R-71 ones) has blocked release until the federal courts--and that would the U.S. Supreme Court--rule in the R-71 case.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Release of R-71 Petitions Until After Election

This isn't a decision on the merits, but is a temporary measure that goes past the election date.

Eymnan: Public Records Act Unconstitutional to the Extent It Could Lead to Harassment

The Seattle P-I's Strange Bedfellows blog has this piece, which states:

"In an amended complaint filed Monday, initiative proponent Tim Eyman argues that the state's Public Records Act is 'unconstitutional to the extent that it requires public disclosure when there is a reasonable probability of threats, harassment, and reprisals.'"

Eyman is wrong.

Threats, harassment, and reprisals are already against the law. Enforce those laws. This would curb the specific problem in a given situation without giving government a blanket excuse to keep virtually all information secret. Government could find a way to say that release of virtually any information would lead to someone being "harassed." For example, maybe a politician claims release of a damaging email will cause "harassment" because now he or she has a tough re-election campaign.

The starting point for looking at the public's right to know how their government is functioning can never be "There could be some crazy guy out there out of the millions of people in the state." That's the same as saying "Never release anything."

Monday, October 19, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks Release of R-71 Petitions

This is just a one-justice, temporary order preventing disclosure of the R-71 petitions.

It is relatively common when failure to provide a temporary block would make the case moot (because the records were released and there is nothing left to fight about in the case).

Olympian Editorial on Ninth Circuit R-71 Ruling

The Olympian editorializes on why the Ninth Circuit got it right by ordering the disclosure of the R-71 petitions.

Notes from Executive Sessions

This article from The (Everett) Herald looks at the issue of city council members keeping notes of executive sessions. The article lays out the issue very well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Court Says Courts Not Subject to Public Records Act

The state Supreme Court decided the Koenig II case today. In essence, the court held that courts are not an "agency" subject to the Public Records Act.

Here is the (Tacoma) News Tribune story on the case.

Here is Brad Shannon's blog post from The Olympian.

The Seattle P-I's story is here.

! Federal Appeals Court Orders Disclosure of R-71 Petitions !

They will be released.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wenatchee World Editorial on Why That Newspaper Sues to Get Public Records

Why do newspapers--which are strapped for cash more than most businesses right now--spend money on lawyers and sue to obtain public records?

Here's why.

Deleted Email Case--A Blow to Open Government

The Court of Appeals ruled for Pierce County in the deleted email case brought by BIAW.

NOTE: Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet represented the requestor in this case.

Suit Filed to Get Signers on All Eyman Initiatives, Not Just R-71

The (Everett) Herald reports that a request has been made for the signatures on all Eyman initiatives, not just R-71.

Eyman is opposing disclosure. A court hearing is scheduled for this week.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sunshine Committee Recommends Sunset Review of New Disclosure Exemptions

The Sunshine Committee is for sunsetting.

Jefferson County Must Pay $41,515 in Public Records Case

The Port Townsend Leader has this story about Jefferson County's "pizza privacy" defense in a Public Records Act case and how it cost them $41,515.

NOTE: Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet and David Norman represented the records requestor in this case.

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin Editorial on Technology and Open Meetings

This editorial from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin discusses email and Facebook and how they can make quick decisionmaking for local elected officials a little too easy.

The U-B is exactly right. Efficiency is not the goal here.

The Open Public Meetings Act is designed to make decision making open to the public, even if this is less efficient than deciding business in a few clicks of the mouse. This is counterintuitive in our go-go fast-fast world. But it's the law. And there's a good reason for it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Judge Blocks Release of Record ... But No One Cited a Legal Exemption from Disclosure

The Bellingham Herald reports on the outcome of their case to obtain a City of Bellingham report on the performance of Matia Contractors on a public works project.

The Public Records Act requires a party resisting disclosure to cite a statute allowing the record to be withheld, and also requires the party to persuade a court that the exemption from disclosure applies. No one, not Matia nor the City, has cited an exemption from disclosure, let alone described how it applies. In fact, Matia agreed that an exemption must be cited and that it had not done so. The judge still ruled for Matia.

NOTE: Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet represented The Bellingham Herald in the case.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

State Supreme Court to Hear Sealed Court Records Case

The state Supreme Court will hear the Yakima Herald-Republic's case to obtain court records showing how much Yakima County spent on defense attorneys in a murder case.

NOTE: Allied Law Group represents the Yakima Herald-Republic in the case.

Ruling Gives Seattle Police Oversight Board Access to Files

Now Seattle's police oversight board can see unredacted files so they can do their job.

Here is the Seattle Times story on it, and the Seattle P-I's story.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Quicker and Cheaper Way to Enforce Open Gov't Laws?

This piece by Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center and this story from The Olympian describe the work of a task force set up by the Attorney General and State Auditor to study the creation of an administrative body that, like small claims court, decides Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act cases quickly and cheaply--without having to go to court.

However, and this is extremely important, citizens could still go to court for enforcement. The administrative body would be an option.

Here is an editorial on the topic from the Spokesman-Review.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Clark College Sued Under Open Public Meetings Act

Even though the focus is usually on local government bodies, the Open Public Meetings Act applies to state boards and commissions as well.

In this case, the defendant is the Clark College, a state community college. The allegations center on the student association at the college deciding student-election campaign violations and taking a personnel decision in a closed meeting.

City of Seattle Considers Social Networking Sites to Have Potential Open Meetings Problems

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission has a new draft ethics policy out for city council members. The policy considers Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube to create the potential for Open Public Meetings Act violations.

Good. We hope other local governments are paying attention.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Obama Administration Opposes Federal Reporter Shield Bill


A reporter shield law allows reporters to offer complete anonymity to sources who might have information that makes the government mad; shielding whistle blowers leads to more accountability because news stories that otherwise would not happen can be published.

The Obama administration's opposition to this illustrates our point that, in general, those in power oppose accountability efforts while those out of power tend to support them (until they are in power).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Does Arbitrator's Ruling Trump the Public Records Act?

This article from the Bellingham Herald describes a request by the Herald for records which were ordered destroyed by an arbitrator in a construction dispute. The judge wants briefing on the issue of whether the arbitrator's ruling controls over the Public Records Act.

The article quotes Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group, the firm representing the Herald.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

UPDATED: Many Editorials and Articles on R-71 Case

Here they are:

The (Longview) Daily News editorial.

The (Vancouver) Columbian editorial.

The Tri-City Herald editorial.

Kitsap Sun blog piece on Tim Eyman versus Sam Reed on the R-71 issue.

There are so many stories and editorials on this case, og-blog will be bringing them to you with little comment, just links, like above.

UPDATE: Here is The Olympian's editorial.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wash. Coalition for Open Gov't Honors State Auditor Brian Sonntag

This article from Sound Politics describes the recent open-government award given by the Washington Coalition for Open Government to State Auditor Brian Sonntag.

For the record, Sonntag rules.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reporter and Public Excluded from Court Proceeding Involving Judge

This (Tacoma) News-Tribune editorial describes the exclusion of a reporter and the public from hearing a witness provide testimony in a criminal case against a Pierce County judge.

The Washington state constitution, Article I section 10, is pretty clear on this: "Justice in all cases shall be administered openly, and without unnecessary delay." Of all the things the public needs to see, to know that no one is getting special breaks, is the criminal trial of a judge. This is exactly why Article I section 10 exists.

EFF Calls Out AG on Yousoufian Amicus Brief

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation criticizes Attorney General Rob McKenna's decision to file a less-than-pro open government amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief in the Yousoufian case on penalties in Public Records Act cases.

Monday, September 21, 2009

R-71: The Other Side of the Story

This op-ed piece in The (Everett) Herald provides the argument for why the referendum signatures should be withheld from disclosure under the First Amendment.

TNT Editorial on Eyman's R-71 "Fraud" Claim

Here is a TNT editorial on Tim Eyman's claim that Secretary of State Sam Reed's attempt to have the R-71 signatures made public is a "fraud."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Everett School District Ordered to Turn Over Records

This (Everett) Herald story describes a ruling for a teachers union against the Everett School District in a public records case involving access to district legal bills.

Thanks to "Potbanger" for this story.

Federal R-71 Ruling Might Not Be the End of the Public Records Act

This article from the Seattle P-I looks at whether the ruling in the R-71 case would mean the end of the Public Records Act or, as the article suggests, just an exemption in the very specific facts of the case (for signatures on a ballot measure).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

TNT Editorial on Prisoner Prohibition on Records Requests

This (Tacoma) News-Tribune editorial makes the excellent point that the law allowing an agency to obtain an injunction against repeated abusive records requests by a prisoner should not be used to block legitimate requests.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

UPDATED (2): Federal Judge Rules R-71 Signatures Can Be Withheld For Now

Citing the First Amendment, a federal judge has ruled that the signatures of those signing R-71, the referendum to block civil unions, must continue to be withheld pending a final decision.

Some of the signers of a similar petition in California were harassed by those opposed to that measure. On the other hand, there could be mischief if no one can see if the signatures on initiatives and referenda are legitimate--what if there are pages of signatures of "Mickey Mouse" (based on a true story)?

UPDATE 1: Another story, this one quoting Allied Law Group's Michele Earl-Hubbard.

UPDATE 2: A great story on this case from The (Vancouver) Columbian.

No Exemption from Disclosure for "This Might Embarass the President"

This opinion piece on is about a federal document analyzing the costs of the Cap and Trade bill, some of which was redacted in response to a FOIA request. The author says this:
One odd point: The document written by [an administration official] includes this line: "It will raise energy prices and impose annual costs on the order of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX." The Treasury Department redacted the rest of the sentence with a thick black line.

The Freedom of Information Act, of course, contains no this-might-embarrass-the-president exemption (nor, for that matter, should federal agencies be in the business of possibly suppressing dissenting climate change voices). You'd hope the presidential administration that boasts of being the "most open and transparent in history" would be more forthcoming than this.

Thanks to Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center for this.

Editorials Across the State Blast R-71 Signature Ruling

The (Tacoma) News-Tribune writes this blistering editorial against the recent federal court ruling that preliminarily blocks the release on First Amendment grounds of signatures on R-71, a measure to repeal civil unions.

The Spokesman-Review writes this one.

The Seattle P-I weighs in here.

This is the Yakima Herald-Republic's editorial.

The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin writes this.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bellingham Herald Intervenes in Case on Whether City Can Destroy Public Record

The Bellingham Herald is intervening into a case brought by the City of Bellingham asking a court to tell the city whether it must destroy a public record, as ordered by an arbitrator in a construction law case.

NOTE: Allied Law Group represents the Bellingham Herald.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Olympian Editorial on "Legislative Exemption" from Public Records Act

The Olympian writes this editorial on the Sunshine Committee's recommendation to end the so-called "legislative exemption" from the Public Records Act.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Split Decision on Federal Reserve FOIA Requests

Looks like one judge ruled for Bloomberg News that the Fed must disclose bailout information, but another judge ruled against Fox News for essentially the same information.

Case on Sealed Court Records

The Peninsula Daily News reports on this story of sealed court records in Jefferson County.

Legislators React to Sunshine Committee Recommendation to Get Rid of Legislative Exemption

This story from The (Longview) Daily News describes the reaction of area legislators to the Sunshine Committee's recommendation to end the Legislature's de facto exemption from the Public Records Act.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Public Records Show ... City Council Member Using City Email to Send "Racy" Emails

When the Evergreen Freedom Foundation made public records requests to the City of Kirkland, they wanted to find out if backroom deals were being cut.

They found something else. Apparently a city council member was using his city email account to send some "racy" emails to his girlfriend. During city council meetings. The city will now spend $5,000 to investigate the matter.

Of course, no one should care about adults exchanging "racy" emails. Whatever. But the problem is the use of taxpayer resources for this. And we know it happened only because of the Public Records Act.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ethics Panel Violates Open Meetings Law

A little ironic, but a Colorado ethics panel was found to have violated that state's open meetings law.

Thanks to Billy Kokanee for the tip on this story.

Obama Administration to Release White House Visitor Logs

In a reversal of a previous (bad) decision, the Obama administration will now release the names of visitors to the White House. Good.

The Bush administration did not release them and we criticized him for that. When the Obama administration initially did the same, we criticized that. Now we give credit where credit is due.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sunshine Committee Recommends Repeal of Legislature's Public Records Exemption

This editorial by The (Longview) Daily News discusses the Sunshine Committee's vote to recommend the repeal of the Legislature's exemption from the Public Records Act. (It's not technically an exemption but that's a long, lawyerly side show.)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Newspapers Filing Fewer Public Records Lawsuits

This New York Times article chronicles something we've noticed for a long time: fewer newspapers are filing suit to enforce open-government laws.

And government agencies know it. Some are counting on getting free passes to not provide records.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

UPDATED: Port of Port Angeles Accused of Violating Open Meetings Act

Ah, the old "narrowing down the pool of candidates in executive session" situation.

The Open Public Meetings Act prohibits the Port of Port Angeles from deciding who to hire in a closed-to-the-public executive session. But they narrowed down the pool of candidates for the Port's CEO job from 22 to 1. Going from 22 to 1 seems like a decision. When you narrow down, say, which of 22 cars you want to buy to 1, most normal people would call that a "decision."

The Port commissioners voted unanimously in an open session--without any discussion in the open session--to offer the job to the 1. A unanimous decision without any discussion but "no decision was previously made"? Wow. A bunch of politicians coming to a unanimous decision without any discussion on which of 22 people to hire? Theoretically possible but not terribly likely. A room full of politicians could debate for hours what to order for lunch.

The story is detailed in the Peninsula Daily News.

NOTE: The story quotes Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group.

UPDATE: Here is a news story with more details of what happened.

Federal Reserve Must Disclose

A New York District Court judge has ruled that the Federal Reserve must disclose records about emergency loans it made.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Counties' Insurance Company Won't Cover Public Records Claims

This is big news.

This letter indicates that the county insurance pool will no longer cover Public Records Act claims by counties when they get sued.

This is probably because some counties, like Jefferson County, made some questionable decisions and got sued, like by claiming the "pizza privacy exemption."

So if you're suing a county for a Public Records Act violation, the county might be on the hook itself for the money (fees and penalties awarded to you and the county's own defense costs).

This might actually encourage sensible settlements by counties. Funny how making people pay the costs of their own actions makes them a little more careful. (Of course, when counties pay for their actions, it's with your tax money. But even this seems more like "their" money than insurance money.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Morgan v. City of Federal Way--Victory for Open Gov't

The Supreme Court issued its decision today in Morgan v. City of Federal Way, which involved a municipal judge trying to prevent the disclosure of a report on his alleged misconduct.

The requestor, the (Tacoma) News Tribune, won.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TNT Blasts Governor Over "Executive Privilege" For Public Records

The (Tacoma) New Tribune writes this editorial about Governor Gregoire initially claiming "executive privilege" to withhold public records.

The editorial describes other cases involving these so-called privileges.

Thanks to Mike Reitz and his Facebook page for alerting us to this one.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Both Sides of the Debate on Releasing R-71 Signatures

Should the signatures of those signing R-71, the referendum that would prohibit gay marriage, be released as public records?

Both sides are thoughtfully and civilly debated in this Seattle Times piece.

Center for Justice Wins Public Records Case Against Spokane County

The Spokesman-Review reports that the Center for Justice beat Spokane County in a Public Records Act case. Interesting read.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Governor and "Executive Privilege"

The Governor's Office will turn over records to the Evergreen Freedom Foundation about a climate change executive order after first claiming, then retracting, "executive privilege" and deliberative process as exemptions from disclosure.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Candidates Respond to Open Gov't Questionaire

The Seattle Post-Globe (yes, the Post-Globe) has this Jason Mercier piece on candidates responding to an open government questionnaire.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Database of Medical Errors

This P-I article looks at the efforts to get a publicly accessible database showing medical errors. It is a good look at how hard it is to get anything good done in Olympia.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

UPDATE: City of Kirkland's Public Records Request Form Illegal?

Piper Scott at EFF's blog writes about the City of Kirkland's public records request form, which asks (as an "optional" inquiry) why the requestor wants the records and what the requestor intends to do with the records.

That pesky Public Records Act provides (emphasis added): "Agencies shall not distinguish among persons requesting records, and such persons shall not be required to provide information as to the purpose for the request [with an exception for commercial use of records]."

We'll be watching this one.

UPDATE: Well, the City of Kirkland did the right thing and changed its public records request form in response to a letter from Tim Ford, the Attorney General's Open Government Ombudsman. Kudos to EFF's blog for bringing some attention to this.

See, we highlight good governmental behavior whenever possible.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Susan Hutchison/KIRO Court Records Released

A King County Superior Court judge ordered the release of previously sealed court records in King County Executive candidate Susan Hutchison's lawsuit against her former employer, KIRO TV.

NOTE: Allied Law Group's Michele Earl-Hubbard represented the Seattle Times and other news organizations seeking release of the records.

Wenatchee Open Government Forum

The Wenatchee World reports on an open government forum held there.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Friday, July 31, 2009

UPDATED (3) Jefferson County Loses Public Records Case Over Commissioner's Phone Records

UPDATE 3: Whoa. A cartoon about a Public Records Act case? Yes. See it here.

The Port Townsend Leader writes this story on a court ruling against Jefferson County which was attempting to withhold the public-phone system records of a county commissioner.

NOTE: Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet and David Norman represented the records requestor.

UPDATE 1: The Peninsula Daily News writes this story on the case. And, no, the Public Records Act does not contain a "pizza privacy" exemption from disclosure. See RCW 42.56.001 - .904.

UPDATE 2: Scott Wilson, editor and publisher of the the Port Townsend Leader, writes this brutal editorial pointing out the folly of the County's "pizza defense." Good reading.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Federal Reserve Gets to Keep Bailout Facts Secret

Why should people get to know how their money is being spent?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Signers of Anti-Gay Marriage Referendum Seek to Block Release of Their Names

The (Everett) Herald reports that some of those signing Referendum 71, which would prevent gay marriage in Washington, are going to federal court in an attempt to prevent the disclosure of the signers' names. The pro-gay marriage group who requested the signatures says it will post the signers' names on the Internet. The same thing happened in California with Prop. 8, where a map showed the addresses of all signers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Public Records Show .... Gov't Employee Infiltrated Anti-War Group

The Olympian reports that a Ft. Lewis government employee apparently used an alias to join an Olympia-area anti-war group. How do we know this? A public records request.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Auditor Sonntag Wins Open Gov't Award

The (Tacoma) News Tribune reports that State Auditor Brian Sonntag has won the James Andersen award by the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

We have worked with Sonntag and know him to be the real deal when it comes to open government. Congratulations, Governor. (Under the constitutional line of succession when the Governor is absent, Sonntag was the governor for about three days around Christmas and technically is a former Governor so he retains the title of "Governor." He laughs when people call him that.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

UPDATED: Obama Follows (Bad) Bush Policy on Release of White House Visitor Logs

So much for "change" at least on open government.

UPDATE: OK, it looks like the Obama administration is backtracking and will, indeed, release the names of the health care executives who met with the President recently.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Arlington School District Open Meetings Suit

The (Everett) Herald reports that the Arlington School District is being sued for violating the Open Public Meetings Act.

Looks like this story is getting wide coverage: a Portland TV news station has it.

NOTE: Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet and David Norman represent the public-interest law firm bringing the case, the Center for Justice.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

City Settles Public Records Act Case for $175,000

The City of Prosser, reports the Yakima Herald-Republic, settled a public records case for $175,000.

This is an expensive law to violate ... except when you can pay for it with other people's money (tax payers).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Putting Up Gates to Keep Public Requestors Out

We're not making this up.

Thanks for the tip from a secret informant who we call "and Bernstein."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Televise the U.S. Supreme Court

This editorial from The (Everett) Herald argues for the U.S. Supreme Court to do what the Washington State Supreme Court has done for years: televise oral arguments.

TVW here in our state deserves enormous credit for televising (and archiving) state Supreme Court arguments. People here are better connected to their judicial branch because of it.

Idaho Last in State Campaign-Finance Disclosure Laws

The Spokesman-Review writes this editorial about the recent last-place finish of Idaho in a national survey of states' campaign-finance disclosure laws. Washington was near the top, again.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

State Bar Journal Article About Og-Blog

The Washington State Bar Association's Bar News has an article on og-blog (and other law blogs). Here's what it says about us:

Why blog? "Simple," says Greg Overstreet, a principal of Allied Law Group. "It's fun, it's good for business, and it allows me to advocate for a right I care very deeply about." Based in Olympia, Overstreet runs the firm's Open Government Blog (, reviewing news, legislation, and cases that involve the state's Public Records and Open Public Meetings acts. One of his primary reasons for the site is to "maintain the firm's profile among our client groups." The biggest surprise for Overstreet? "Our clients get hooked reading the blog."

Overstreet frequently gets calls from news reporters who need an expert quote for a specific dispute. Weeks later, he will hear from a potential client who read the newspaper story. The blog earns him a quasi-journalist status, with people sending tips and insider information about open-government issues from around the state. (A reporter once asked Overstreet to hold a story, telling him, "I can't get scooped by a blogger.")

Og-blog has been a lot of fun. Thanks for reading it. We know how many of you there are out there, and it's a bigger number than you'd think.

Monday, June 29, 2009

City of Monroe Open Meetings Questioned

This story from the (Everett) Herald describes some unusual goings on at the City of Monroe, which has a bit of a track record of Open Public Meetings Act problems.

Thanks to a loyal og-blog reader who sent this to our attention.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

City of Bellingham Withholding Train Accident Documents

This story from the Bellingham Herald, via the (Tacoma) News Tribune, describes a fight to obtain public records about a train accident.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Judge Rules Gay City Employees' Names Can Be Withheld

King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick ruled that a list of City of Seattle workers in a gay employees group can be withheld pending a full hearing on the case, reports the Seattle P-I.

Here is more background on the case and how it developed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Judge Seals Records and Closes Courtroom

The Port Townsend Leader has this story on the sealing of records in a murder trial and the closure of the courtroom.

(Longview) Daily News Editorial on Pres. Obama's Refusal to Disclose White House Visitor Logs

We criticized President Bush for not releasing the White House visitor logs, so we join the (Longview) Daily News in criticizing President Obama for the same thing.

Here is background on President Obama's administratoin's refusal to release the records.

Jason Mercier Op-Ed on State Spending Database

The state spending database is up and running.

Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center writes this op-ed on it in the (Tacoma) News-Tribune.

You might also be interested in the Evergreen Freedom Foundation's tax transparency web site,

Ken Bunting Op-Ed Piece on Open Gov't

Ken Bunting, formerly of the Seattle P-I, writes this op-ed piece on open government for the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Feast or Famine

As you might have noticed, sometimes there is one og-blog posting a week and other times three or four a day. It just depends on the material that's out there.

There's been lots lately.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pres. Obama Breaking Pledge to Allow Public to See Bills For 5 Days Before Signing

This story from the New York Times describes then-candidate Obama's pledge to allow the public five days to view a bill passed by Congress before the President signed it.

It's not working out that way.

Attorney General Blog on Open Gov't

"Unredacted," the Attorney General's Office blog on open government, is up now. It is in a Frequently Asked Questions-style format and is very helpful.

You can find it at

Here is some more information on Unredacted.

$500,000 Public Records Ruling ... Kind Of

This story from The Olympian describes a ruling in Thurston County Superior Court of a Public Records Act judgment of over $500,000 against the state Department of Labor and Industries. But it was based on the Yousoufian decision on penalties, which was withdrawn by the Supreme Court. So it's in limbo.

UPDATED (2): Gay City Employees Try to Block Release of Their Names

The Seattle P-I reports on a suit filed by gay City of Seattle employees to block the release of a roster of the Seattle Public Utilities "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Friends" group.

UPDATE 1: Here is more on the story from the Seattle Times.

UPDATE 2: The City, reluctantly, takes the position that the records are disclosable. Whether or not the City wants to release the records, this is the correct legal position. Give City Attorney Tom Carr credit where credit is due.

Yakima Open Gov't Forum on June 24

If you're in the Yakima area, you might want to attend this.

(Everett) Herald Editorial on "Late Night Happy Hour" City Meeting

The (Everett) Herald writes this editorial about a "late night happy hour" meeting of Mukilteo city council members.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Obama Criticized for Lack of Openness

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, who is not exactly a Republican, writes this about President Obama's openness record.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Supreme Court to Rehear Yousoufian Case

The Seattle Times reports that due to the recusal of Justice Sanders the Supreme Court will rehear the Yousoufian case which clarified law on the penalties provision of the Public Records Act.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

UPDATED: Supreme Court Quickly Orders Release of Federal Way Records

Holy smokes. It only took the Supreme Court a week or so after oral argument to order the release of public records involving a Federal Way Municipal Court judge.

The story is from Washington Policy Center's blog.

UPDATE: Here is the TNT story on the release, including a link to the document they fought so hard to get.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Spokesman-Review Editorial on Copying Charges

The Spokesman-Review writes this editorial on the City of Spokane's decision to not impose (illegally high) copying charges for public records.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

TNT Editorial on Federal Way Municipal Court Records

The Tacoma News-Tribune writes this editorial calling for the release of public records from the Federal Way Municipal Court. A judge of that court is suing the TNT to block the release of the records.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The $1 Million Public Meetings Notice Mistake

Grays Harbor County might lose $1,000,000 in federal stimulus money because it failed to provide the required notice and record a public meeting under federal grant law.

So reports The (Aberdeen) Daily World.

Local governments are always complaining about how costly it is to comply with open meetings laws. It seems a whole lot more costly to violate them.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

AG Ombudsman Questions Spokane's Copying Fees

This post from the Center for Justice's blog describes a letter written by the Attorney General's Open Government Ombudsman, Tim Ford, to the City of Spokane regarding its new copying charges. The city is charging $0.90 for the first page and $0.30 per page thereafter. The City is only allowed to charge their "actual costs" for copying public records, including labor.

Have you been to a Kinkos lately? They charge somewhere in the range of $0.10 per page. If the City's "actual cost" is $0.90 or $0.30 per page, is Kinkos giving away billions of dollars by undercharging for all their copies? Someone better tell Kinkos shareholders of this massive give-away.

Monday, June 1, 2009

King County Considering Public Records Reforms

This from West Seattle Herald.

The proposal for more openness comes from the political out (way out) of power in King County, thus reinforcing the idea that the "ins" are less enamored with public disclosure and the "outs" like it.

At least until the "ins" and "out" parties trade places. Then you start all over again. Repeat as necessary.

Video of Alleged Puppy Mill Released

The Seattle Times reports on the release of a video by Snohomish County, over the objection of criminal defendants, in a case alleging mistreatment of animals.

While the Public Records Act gets all the attention, access to court records is a very important part of the open-government laws.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

City of Yakima Sued for Open Meetings Violation

This story from the Yakima Herald describes a case about an alleged Open Public Meetings Act violation, and how and why attorneys fees are awarded to the prevailing party.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Justice-Nominee Sotomayor's Record on Open Gov't

From SCOTUSblog:

In two cases involving requests under the Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA), Sotomayor wrote an opinion that declined to order the release of the
requested information, explaining that she did not want to “unreasonably hamper
agencies in their decision-making.” Thus, in Tigue v. DOJ, 312 F.3d 70 (2d
Cir. 2002), the panel denied a tax attorney’s request for a memorandum written
by a Deputy U.S. Attorney outlining the office’s opinions and policies regarding
tax investigations, notwithstanding that the memorandum had been cited in a
publicly released report. And in Wood v. FBI, 432 F.3d 78 (2d Cir.
2005), while acknowledging that FOIA exemptions should be construed “narrowly,
resolving all doubts in favor of disclosure,” her opinion denied a reporter’s
request for an FBI memorandum regarding local FBI agents accused of lying.
She reasoned that the “unwarranted invasion of privacy” for the individuals
whose names would be released outweighed the public interest in disclosing a
government employee’s identity.

Court of Appeals: Administrative Hearings Must Be Open to Public

The Washington Court of Appeals ruled that an administrative adjudicative hearing must be open to the public (unless a law allows closed proceedings). This is nothing new: RCW 34.05.449(5) requires it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Public Records Show .... Misdeeds at Seattle Fire Dept.

This story from the Seattle Times describes discipline received by Seattle firefighters. The story was only possible because of access to public records.

By the way, the Times found 23 incidents of reprimands since January 2008 in an agency of over 1,100 people. That's not bad. But that's the point--the news (the good, the bad, or the ugly) can only come out because of public records.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Editorial on the Municipal Death Penalty Case and Thoughts on OPM

This Tri-City Herald editorial makes the point that the lawyer advising the City of Mesa, which is considering bankruptcy because it can't pay the judgment imposed on it in a Public Records Act case, should take some of the blame.

The editorial points out that perhaps the lawyer's hardline approach was dictated by the client, the city.

But whether it was the lawyer or the city (or both), the fact is that when government is confronted with a choice of (1) following the law when it doesn't want to (by turning over embarassing documents) or (2) paying a bunch of money, it comes down to three letters: OPM. As in "Other People's Money." Why would a government agency follow the law when it can fight those pesky citizens endlessly with ... OPM. And then, if the citizens gets lucky and wins in court, pay a judgment with ... OPM.

It only seems to matter when there isn't enough OPM to save the town from bankruptcy. Then it's a "crisis."

Here's a previous post on all the reasons government--and their lawyers--have to roll the dice and not follow the law in open-government matters.

White House Exempt from FOIA

Remember all those times we say how bad FOIA, the federal public records law, is and how much better Washington's Public Records Act is?

This is what we're talking about.

Editorial on Legislature Disclosing Records

This editorial from the (Longview) Daily News describes why the Legislature should get rid of the narrow definition of "record" as it relates to the Legislature, which some view as a defacto exemption from the Public Records Act.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Seattle Exempts Itself From Index Requirement of Public Records Act

Crosscut reports that the City of Seattle has opted out of the requirement in the Public Records Act for a local government to maintain an index of public records.

The law allows a local government to do so by passing a resolution proclaiming that such an index would be "unduly burdensome."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Op-Ed on Obama Release of Waterboarding Memos

This op-ed by Ramsey Ramerman, an attorney representing local governments in open-government cases, discusses President Obama's release of the waterboarding memos from the Bush administration. Ramerman lauds President Obama's release of the previous administration's records.

However, the Obama administration is still withholding public records about which corporations are receiving bailout money. So the release of records that embarrass the previous administration is occurring, but releases about the current administration's actions seem to be less forthcoming.

Friday, May 8, 2009

City of Yakima "Jumping the Quorum"?

"Jumping the quorum" refers to one sub-quorum group of a governing body discussing public business and then telling another sub-quorum group of the body what's going on, so you have, in effect, a quorum of the body discussing things--just in two or more steps.

That appears to be what the Yakima City Council is doing according to this story in the Yakima Herald-Republic.

This came to light because the newspaper obtained city council members' emails through the Public Records Act.

NOTE: The story quotes Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group. Also note that Allied Law Group represents the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Yakima Herald-Republic's Fight to Get Records Goes to Supreme Court

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports on its battle to get public records, a battle which is now at the state Supreme Court.

NOTE: Allied Law Group represents the Yakima Herald-Republic in this case so we won't comment on it on og-blog.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Police Officer Sues City of Vancouver for Records

The (Vancouver) Columbian reports on a police officer suing the City of Vancouver to obtain public records about his discipline. The officer claims he was disciplined in retaliation for testifying in a case about racial discrimination by the department against an Indian-American officer.

Chicago Tribune Series on Open Gov't

The Chicago Tribune writes this series called Your Government in Secret. It describes average people's struggle to obtain public records, the state of the current law, and plans to reform it. An excellent series of "real people" stories about open government.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Municipal Death Penalty: Public Records Loss Might Bankrupt Town

Some argue that the death penalty deters crime. Well, a small Washington town might go bankrupt--the death penalty for a municipality--because it can't pay the money awarded to a requestor in a Public Records Act case.

Maybe this will deter other local governments from violating the Public Records Act.

Probably not.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

They Can't Even Spell "Accountability"

This story from KING 5 describes how the City of Tacoma put one of its guiding principles--"accountibility"--on calendars for city employees. Except that's not how you spell the word.

Thanks for this tip from MR at the VRWC.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bill Passes Giving Public Right to Comment at Public Meetings

What the heck?  An open-government bill passed in Olympia?  Is this for real?

Apparently so.  HB 1552 requires statebodies holding a meeting subject to the Open Public Meetings Act to allow the public to comment.  This press release explains it.

The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously.  It was sponsored by Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Okanagon), who is a very pro-open government legislator.  Nice work, Rep. Kretz.

The Governor needs to sign it for it to take effect.  Unanimous in the House and Senate almost always means a gubernatorial signature.

UPDATE: Bob Meinig of the Municipal Research Service Center corrected us by noting that state bodies, but not local bodies, are covered by the bill.  The original og-blog post said local bodies were covered.  Thank you for the correction. 

King County Settles Public Records Case Over Elections for $225,000

The Seattle Times reports on Stefan Sharkansky's case against King County.  He asked for records relating to the fact that the County had more votes than voters in the 2004 election (the one in which King County kept finding more and more votes for Gov. Gregoire, who eventually won by 124 votes). 

The County will pay Sharkansky $225,000.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

School District Sued for Releasing (Not Withholding) Records

The Whidbey News-Times in Oak Harbor has this story about a school district releasing public records about an alleged teacher sexual incident. The release of the records appears to have been required by the Public Records Act. Now the teacher is suing the school district for releasing the records.

Someone should tell the teacher's attorney about this little part of the Public Records Act, RCW 42.56.060, which provides:

"No public agency, public official, public employee, or custodian shall be liable, nor shall a cause of action exist, for any loss or damage based upon the release of a public record if the public agency, public official, public employee, or custodian acted in good faith in attempting to comply with the provisions of this chapter."

Immunity for releasing records. It's a key part of the Public Records Act. It gives agencies the confidence of knowing that they won't get sued for releasing records--they can only be sued for withholding them. This is a big incentive.

P.S. Thanks to "Kokanee Bill" for this seeing this story and letting us know about it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tom Carr's Side of the Open Meetings Flap

Here is an op-ed by Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr in Crosscut concerning the attempted closure of a City council meeting on budget cuts.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Olympian Editorial on Mason County Case

This editorial in The Olympian describes the recent $145,000 award to a records requestor against Mason County for violating the Public Records Act.

Of particular interest to readers of og-blog is the fact that Mason County was ordered to pay the highest possible penalty for a violation, $100 per day, which has never happened before (to our knowledge).  The editorial quotes Allied Law Group's Greg Overstreet about the penalty award: "I've never heard of it being awarded in any other case, and I actually keep track of these things."  

NOTE: Allied Law Group represented the requestor, Harold Carey.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hostility to Open Gov't in Pennsylvania

This story describes how Pennsylvania state government isn't exactly welcoming a new state open government ombudsman.

To all of those who claim a pro-open government stance is just an "easy" political issue for politicians, we ask this: if being pro-open government is such a political no-brainer, why is the Governor of Pennsylvania acting this way?

If open government is such a no-brainer political issue, why aren't local government officials in Washington state falling all over themselves to provide public records and open up meetings? It's because open government means: (1) scrutiny on the decisions of those running things, and (2) ire sometimes from agency staff members (and their unions) who might be doing something wrong. Guess which side is the "easy" political decision?

Monday, April 13, 2009

UPDATED (2) City of Seattle Plans Secret Budget Meetings

The City of Seattle plans on having meetings of four of the nine council members (less than a quorum) to discuss how to cut the budget reports the Seattle Times.

Why? Because you little citizens can't handle all the facts. The story says "Council members said they oppose closed-door meetings in general but said there's no reason to bore the public with complex briefings and logistical decisions." Yep, it's just your money but there is "no reason to bore" you with the details. You are being treated like children. And a majority of your fellow citizens keep voting for these people.

Is this sub-quorum meeting a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act? Here's what the Attorney General's Open Government Internet Manual (section 3.4(B))says:

"A meeting [which triggers the OPMA] occurs if a quorum (that is, a majority) of the members of the governing body were to discuss or consider, for instance, the budget, personnel, or land use issues no matter where that discussion or consideration might occur. What about if less than a quorum is present? Several cases hold that the OPMA is only triggered by a quorum of the governing body, so the 'action' of less than a quorum is not subject to the OPMA. See, e.g., Eugster v. City of Spokane, 128 Wn. App. 1, 8, 114 P.3d 1200 (2005). Others argue that the legislative history of the OPMA indicates that the statute formerly required a quorum for an 'action' but was amended to apply to an action with less than a quorum. Laws of 1985, ch. 366, § 1(3)."

Note that the Eugster case is summarized as "the 'action' of less than a quorum is not subject to the OPMA." So if one half of the non-quorum (the four out of nine council members) does something, it's not the action of the whole council under Eugster. Yes, but "discussion" or "deliberation" of city business is "action" which triggers the OPMA. So if any information or discussion or deliberation travels from one half of the non-quorum to the other half of the non-quorum, you have a "discussion" or "deliberation" by the whole council; it just happened in two stages instead of one.

Since the City of Seattle thinks you are a child, the following illustration is appropriate. If one group of kids at an elementary school cafeteria table discuss something and have one kid go over to the other table and repeat it, and then bring back the thoughts of the second table to the first table, you have a "discussion" albeit it in two stages.

When one half of a quorum of a city council shares information with the second half of the quorum, this is called "jumping the quorum." Which is what will happen. Which is why the City of Seattle will violate the OPMA.

UPDATE 1: The City Council decided not to hold the sub-quorum meetings. The Attorney General's Office got involved and--credit where credit is due--apparently the City Attorney, Tom Carr, urged the Council to open the meetings.

Here is a Seattle Times editorial on opening the meetings; here is the later editorial congratulating the Council for doing so.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation wrote a letter to the City Council that could be read as the threat of an Open Public Meetings Act lawsuit. Probably "just a coincidence" that the Council decided to open up the meetings.

(Sorry we're a day late on posting this. We took a day off on Friday. There's no news on a Friday, right?)

UPDATE 2: Here is Danny Westneat's column on this debacle.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

TNT Editorial on Coal Plant Negotiation Records

The Tacoma News-Tribune writes this editorial about Gov. Gregoire's decision to hold secret negotiations with a coal company over a power plant.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Waiting Five Days to See Something Sitting Right There

This blog posting by the TNT's Ian Demsky describes the Town of Ruston's policy of making requestors wait five business days to see public records (a town council agenda in this case) that are readily available.

Here is a provision of the Attorney General's Model Rules on Public Records addressing this very topic:

"An agency can, of course, provide the records sooner than five business days. Providing the 'fullest assistance' [required by RCW 42.56.100] to a requestor would mean providing a readily available record as soon as possible. For example, an agency might routinely prepare a premeeting packet of documents three days in advance of a city council meeting. The packet is readily available so the agency should provide it to a requestor on the same day of the request so he or she can have it for the council meeting."

WAC 44-14-04004(1).

Friday, April 3, 2009

Free Speech Wins in Open Meetings

This story from The (Pullman) Boomerang describes how the mayor of Palouse City would not allow public comment on a certain topic during open public meetings. Then the Attorney General's Office said in essence: "Nope. There's a little thing called the First Amendment." The Mayor backed down.

This blog covers open government, which usually means access to public records, open meetings, and court proceedings. But if you can't speak during a public meeting, what's the point of access to it?

Mason County Must Pay $145,000 in Public Records Case

This story in The Olympian describes a recent court ruling against Mason County for not providing public records. The requestor, Harold Carey, made public records requests by email. The County doesn't like Carey and put his email address on its spam list and then claimed it never "received" his records requests.

The judge assessed a (first-ever, to our knowledge) $100 per day penalty against the County. When the other penalties, costs, and attorney's fees are added up, Mason County will end up paying Carey about $145,000.

NOTE: Allied Law Group represented Carey in the case. Allied attorney Chris Roslaniec is quoted extensively in the story.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Big Bird Lobbies for Secrecy of Records Showing Birds Killing Humans

OK, sorry for the slightly flippant headline, but this is so silly.

The FAA won't release records showing incidents of birds striking aircraft, as happened a few weeks ago when the US Air jet crashed into the Hudson River.

Who wants to keep these things secret? The "bird lobby" is all we could come up with. You've heard of "Big Oil" and "Big Tobacco." Now it's: