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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.