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Monday, March 29, 2010

Spokane Open Meetings Issues on Real Estate

The Spokesman-Review writes this story on the City of Spokane's executive session on a real estate matter involving the YMCA, one that apparently does not involve a purchase price.

NOTE: Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group is quoted in the article:
Since the city owns the Y and the bids have been made public, using real
estate to justify closure of the meeting may be questionable, said Greg
Overstreet, the former open government ombudsman for the state attorney
general’s office.

“You can’t close a meeting just because real estate is involved,”
Overstreet said. “There are several important requirements other than just the
topic being real estate.”

Here are the requirements in addition to the topic being real estate (see items (b) and (c)).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

! Yousoufian Decided !

The Supreme Court issued its long-awaited final decision in the Yousoufian case on Public Records Act Penalties. A 5-4 decision. The penalty awarded was $45 per day out of a possible range of between $5 and $100 per day.

The conduct of the agency at issue, King County, was atrocious. Without recounting all the facts, suffice it to say the King County spent years lying to the requestor and not providing the records.

The Court ruled that a trial court should decide where to start the daily penalty analysis, that is the dollar figure to start at and then either increase or decrease the amount from there. Several newspapers filed an amicus brief, written primarily by Allied Law Group's Michele Earl-Hubbard, suggesting a starting point of $52.50, the median between $5 and $100. The Court rejected the $52.50 median starting point.

The Court then laid out the following factors for decreasing a penalty: (1) a lack of clarity in the request, (2) the agency's prompt response or legitimate follow-up inquiry for clarification, (3) the agency's good faith, honest, timely, and strict compliance with the PRA, (4) proper training and supervision of agency staff, (5) the reasonableness of any explanation for noncompliance by the agency, (6) the helpfulness of the agency to the requestor, and (7) the existence of agency systems to track and retrieve public records.

The factors for increasing a penalty are: (1) a delayed response by the agency, especially in circumstances making time of the essence, (2) lack of strict compliance by the agency with all the PRA's requirements, (3) lack of proper training and supervision of agency staff, (4) unreasonableness of any explanation for noncompliance by the agency, (5) negligent, reckless, wanton, bad faith, or intentional noncompliance by the agency, (6) agency dishonesty, (7) the public importance of the issue to which the request is related, to the extent the importance is foreseeable to the agency, (8) any actual economic loss to the requestor, where the loss was foreseeable to the agency, and (9) a penalty amount necessary to deter future misconduct by the agency, considering the size of the agency and the facts of the case.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Alexander and signed by Justices Charles Johnson, Chambers, Jim Johnson, and Judge Dean Morgan (a substitute justice).

The dissent was written by Justice Susan Owens and signed by Chief Justice Madsen, Justice Fairhurst, and Judge Karen Seinfeld (a substitute justice).

Justices Sanders and Stephens did not participate.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

DUI Police Report on State Official Not Released

The City of Orting, where state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn was apparently arrested for DUI, will not release a copy of the police report on the incident. Dorn has been charged. The City wants to give Dorn a chance to contest the release.

Once the matter has been referred to a prosecutor (as it has here), the law provides a presumption that the material must be released.

UPDATE: Here is an editorial from The (Tacoma) News-Tribune on the ridiculous delay in providing the public records of the Dorn arrest.

A Constitutional Amendment to Make the Legislative Process Transparent

This blog piece from Jason Schrader of The (Tacoma) News-Tribune looks at a proposal to let the public actually know what the Legislature is voting on.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Senate Majority Leader: "Problem? What Problem?" on Transparency in Legislative Process

After introducing title-only bills (bills that say "An act relating to ..." and that's it; no substance in the bill) and passing them without public hearings, the Senate Majority leader said there was no transparency problem with the legislative process.

Thanks to Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center for raising this issue when no one else cared.

Governor Denies Public Records Request for Her State Budget Proposal


Why should people get to see these kinds of things anyway? Nosy citizens. Don't they know their place?

Sunshine Committee Discusses Open-Gov't Constitutional Amendment

Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center writes this about today's debate in the Sunshine Committee on a proposed amendment to the state constitution to require open government.

The proposal was for discussion only; it has not been introduced in the Legislature.

New King County Executive "Reaffirms His Committment to Public Records"

We've heard this before from elected officials of all stripes. We'll see.

As usual, og-blog gives elected officials the benefit of the doubt and cheers them on when they follow open-government laws. When they don't, we let you know.

Federal Reserve Must Release Bailout Records

A significant victory for openness.

Reporter Threatened with Jail for Reporting on Public Record

It was a "misunderstanding." They always are.

Monday, March 22, 2010

UPDATED: A Judge Who Gets It

Grays Harbor County Superior Court Judge David Edwards decided a Public Records Act case recently. His ruling from the bench thoroughly captures everything about the Act and shows why this law is so important.

UPDATE: Evergreen Freedom Foundation spotlights Judge Edwards' ruling on their blog, Liberty Live.

Initiative Needed

Peter Callaghan of The (Tacoma) News-Tribune writes this column in which he describes why it will take an initiative to fix the open-government problems we have now.

He is right.

We know some people who would write it for free. All we need is 250,000 or so signatures.

Op-Ed on Passing Laws in the Dark

This op-ed by Brandon Housekeeper of the Washington Policy Center appeared in The (Everett) Herald.

Given the hijinks in DC, it shouldn't come as a surprise that our state is also suffering from the same problem of excluding the public from lawmaking.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Names of Bailout Execs Secret

Another reason why FOIA is so worthless: The names of executives at companies who negotiated bailouts are being withheld.

Federal Agency Wants Over $100,000 for Records

This is one of the reasons why FOIA is so much worse than Washington's Public Records Act.

Legislature SLAPPs Those Attempting to Silence Free Speech

A strategic lawsuit against public participation ("SLAPP") is a case filed by someone attempting to silence a critical person or group who is exercising their First Amendment rights.

Since 1989, Washington had a decent anti-SLAPP statute, RCW 4.24.510, on the books.

But it just got better with the passage of SB 6395 a few days ago. It awaits the Governor's signature, which should not be a problem.

The bill creates a speedy procedure for a person to test whether a suit is indeed an unlawful SLAPP suit and provides a winning party their attorneys' fees and $10,000. Here is the final bill report summarizing the new law. This should knock out SLAPP suits before they do their intended job: costing people lots in legal costs for merely exercising their First Amendment rights.

Editorial on Obama's FOIA Record

The (Longview) Daily News writes this editorial on President Obama's less than stellar record on improving the time it takes to get federal records under the Freedom of Information Act.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Attorney General's Crosscut Piece on Efficient Public Records Cases

Attorney General Rob McKenna writes this op-ed in Crosscut urging the passage of a bill to create an administrative board as an option requestors have to resolve public records disputes more quickly and cheaply.

This would be great.

Washington Coalition for Open Gov't Releases 2009 Annual Report

WCOG's annual report is out. One of the few groups that we can say is worthy of your support.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Did Oak Harbor Violate Open Public Meetings Act?

This article from the Seattle P-I discusses whether the City of Oak Harbor violated the Open Public Meetings Act by providing a notice of a special meeting for a committee of the City Council--but then the whole council met (except for one council member who was concerned about violating the law).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Allied Law Group Facebook Updates

Believe it or not, og-blog has only a fraction of the good open-government links that we come across.

Allied Law Group's Facebook page has even more. You can become a Facebook fan of Allied Law Group and get them automatically.

And, once you're a Facebook fan of Allied Law Group, you can become a Facebook friend of other like-minded people.

Monday's Sunshine Week Editorials and Stories

Here they are:

It's Sunshine Week!

This is national Sunshine Week, which highlights open-government issues.

You will see tons of editorials and news stories this week about open government.

Here is a blog piece on Sunshine Week by Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Judge Orders Release of Grays Harbor Audit of Planning Department

The (Aberdeen) Daily World and The (Montesano) Vidette requested records about an independent audit of the Grays Harbor Planning and Building Department. The audit was critical of the department's operations so the union representing department employees filed suit to block disclosure.

It didn't work. The judge ordered the records to be released.

And here are the records.

NOTE: Greg Overstreet of Allied Law Group represented The Daily World and The Vidette.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sunshine Committee Lives

This dispatch from Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center: "The House passed the amended version of HB 2617 last night – the bill does not eliminate the Sunshine Committee. Since the Senate previously adopted a bill that all kept the Sunshine Committee, it should be in the clear."

Arizona School District Sues to Prevent Records Requests


You can be aggressive like this and sue people when, like the school district, your legal bills are paid with other people's money.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Supreme Court Hears Yakima Herald-Republic Case on Attorney Billing Records

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Yakima Herald-Republic's case to obtain public defender billing records that show how $2 million was spent on one case.

The Yakima Herald-Republic's story on the oral argumenet is here and the AP's is here. Background on the case is here.

Video of the oral argument is here. It is an amazing argument.

NOTE: Michele Earl-Hubbard of Allied Law Group argued the case on behalf of the newspaper.

Did Bellevue Violate the Open Public Meetings Act?

A majority of the Bellevue City Council apparently worked together on a letter to a transit agency regarding City business, reports Publicola.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sunshine Committee Lives

This comes from Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center: "House Ways and Committee just adopted this amendment offered by Rep. Kessler to retain the state’s Sunshine Committee. The amendment passed unanimously."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Most Transparent Legislature Ever?

Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center is on fire about the games the Legislature is playing to ram through controversial bills without any chance for the public to participate.

Sunshine Committee Might Live

Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center reports: "The House Ways and Means Committee is taking executive action on the board elimination bill this morning. Rep. Kessler has offered this amendment to restore the Sunshine Committee."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

State: Do As We Say, Not As We Do

The (Tacoma) News-Tribune writes a fabulous editorial on how state officials claim to be all for the Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records but ...
The Yakima Herald-Republic writes this story about the newspaper's public records request for attorney billing records showing how $2 million was spent in a publicly-financed case.

NOTE: Allied Law Group's Michele Earl-Hubbard will be arguing the case for the Yakima Herald-Republic on March 9, 2010 in the state Supreme Court. TVW will cover it and will have the video online after the argument.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Massive Number of Public Records Requests for Slain Lakewood Officers' Personal Information? Not One. Pathetic Scare Mongering.

After four Lakewood police officers were murdered in a coffee shop, public sympathy was (understandably) sky high. Seizing the opportunity, a lobbyist for a police organization testified to the Legislature that the City of Lakewood was "barraged" with public records requests for the victims' personal information, including the birth dates and Social Security numbers of their children. The solution was a new exemption from public disclosure.

Cop-killing stalkers trying to track down the slain officers' children? That would be horrible.

And a total lie.

Lakewood only received one public records request for the information (from the coffee shop's insurance company).

This is pathetic scare mongering. Trying to make government less accountable by using dead police officers and their children. This needs to stop.

Grays Harbor Newspapers File Suit to Obtain Report

The (Aberdeen) Daily News and The (Montesano) Vidette filed suit to obtain a report by independent auditors which is very critical of the Grays Harbor County Planning and Building Department. A department employee and employees' union have filed suit to block disclosure.

NOTE: Allied Law Group represents The Daily World and The Vidette in this case.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Seattle Puts City Data on the Web, Increases Trust from Citizens

This Crosscut piece describes how the City of Seattle, which is under new management, has put City data on the web and how people are able to be more trusting of government when it's open.

If you've ever asked, "What's in it for government with all this openness stuff?" the answer is "trust from the people who pay the bills and elect the leaders." That's a pretty good thing that government gets out of openness.

It's just weird that so many government officials don't get this.

Seattle Times Editorial: "Privacy Bill's Misguided Symbolism"

This editorial is great.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Judge Rejects Governor's Claim of "Executive Privilege"

Wow. This is big news.

Grays Harbor County Employees Attempt to Block Release of Critical Report

The (Aberdeen) Daily World writes this story on a public records case to obtain a report critical of a county department.

NOTE: Allied Law Group represents The Daily World and another newspaper requestor, The Vidette, in this case.

Kitsap Sun Editorial on Bremerton School Board's Open Meetings

This editorial describes the new school board members who pledge to be more open--and then have secret meetings before they are sworn in and therefore were not yet subject to the Open Public Meetings Act.

"Symbolic" Police Public Records Bill Poised to Pass

Well, if it doesn't really do anything, and is just "symbolic," then why pass it?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010