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Friday, April 30, 2010

TNT Editorial on R-71 Case

Yet another good editorial.

Wenatchee World Column on R-71 Case

Tracy Warner at the Wenatchee World writes this column on why publicly signing an initiative is an important part of the process.

Kitsap Sun on Open Meetings

David Nelson of the Kitsap Sun writes this piece on why the Open Public Meetings Act matters.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Transcript of R-71 Oral Argument in U.S. Supreme Court

Here is the transcript.

Summary of R-71 Argument in US Supreme Court

The SCOTUS blog has this on today's argument.

We're with Scalia on this one.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

(Everett) Herald Editorial on R-71

Yet another editorial on the R-71 case.

Anti-Dislcosure Op-Ed on R-71 Case

The attorneys arguing against disclosure in the R-71 case write this op-ed in the Seattle Times.

McKenna Op-Ed on R-71 Case

The Attorney General writes this op-ed in the Seattle Times.

TNT Editorial on R-71 Case

Here it is.

Monday, April 26, 2010

TNT Explains Why It Obtains Public Salary Database

Karen Peterson of The (Tacoma) News Tribune writes this excellent piece on why that newspaper makes public records requests for public salaries and keeps them in a database. The first sentence pretty much sums it up:

"What you make for a living is your business. Unless we pay your salary."

Video Tape a Public Meeting, Go to Jail

Exercising your right to open government can land you in jail.

Friday, April 23, 2010

(Vancouver) Columbian Editorial on R-71 Case in US Supreme Court

This editorial from The (Vancouver) Columbian describes Attorney General Rob McKenna's argument in the U.S. Supreme Court on the R-71 case involving the disclosure of initiative signatures.

Public Records Show ... SEC Staff Viewing Porn During Wall Street Meltdown in 2008

A memo obtained by the Associated Press shows that some staff at the Security and Exchange Commission were not doing what we pay them to do ... while Wall Street was imploding in September, 2008 (AIG, Lehman Bros., etc.).

The SEC staff need to unionize like public employees in Washington state. If they did, they would sue any public records requestor who sought to show they were watching porn on their work computers. They would assert a "privacy" interest in their workplace internet browsing histories.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tri-City Herald Editorial on Benton Clean Air Authority Public Records Act Case

The Tri-City Herald writes this editorial on a local government that settled a public records case.

McKenna Prepares to Argue R-71 Case in U.S. Supreme Court

This (Everett) Herald story describes Attorney General Rob McKenna's preparations to argue the R-71 case on the disclosure of initiative signatures in the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is rare for elected Attorneys General to actually argue cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. But McKenna is very good at this.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spokesman Blog on Secretive Legislature

This blog piece from Jim Camden of the Spokesman-Review describes how during the special session on the state budget the Legislature negotiated with itself behind closed doors and then--poof!--took a vote, all without any public input.

Friday, April 16, 2010

EFF Sues State Ferry Agency for Drug and Alcohol Testing Records

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation sued the Washington State Department of Transportation, which operates the state ferries, to obtain ferry workers' drug and alcohol testing records.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

(Longview) Daily News Editorial on Special Privileges for Media

The (Longview) Daily News joins other newspapers in criticizing HB 1317's grant of special public records privileges to news media.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Olympian Editorial on Special Access to Public Records for Media

This editorial from The Olympian is fabulous.

A while ago, we said that the media was not glad to have special access to some public records; we called it the "caste system." This editorial describes why everyone, not just the media, should have access to public records.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Legislative Speed Readers

How about some transparency from the Legislature? That is the question asked by Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center as reported by Sam Taylor of the Bellingham Herald.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Agencies Can Now Respond to Public Records Request by Posting Records Online

This piece from Local Open Government Blog, a blog by a law firm representing government agencies, describes SB 6367. The law goes into effect on June 10, 2010 and allows agencies to respond to a public records request by providing a link to a requestor of the document if that document is on the agency's web site. A requestor without web access can still obtain a copy.

Here it is 2010 and the Legislature finally passed this. This idea was proposed in 2006 by Attorney General Rob McKenna. If we recall correctly, local government lobbyists opposed the idea then.

This new law saves agencies and requestors time and money, and encourages agencies to post public records online. Good public policy.

The passage of this bill should relieve some local government staff and lobbyists who claim that many public records requestors are just maliciously trying to waste agency resource by making agency staff find records and copy them. Nope. A link will do.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Elma Proposes a Brand New Kind of Meeting: a "Closed Session" ... Which Is Illegal

When the law doesn't let you do what you want, try to change it. As in: go to the Legislature and try to amend the law so that whatever it is you want to do would now be legal. That's how you do it.

But don't come up with a new term to describe what it is you want to do and then claim that what you're doing is this new thing, not the thing that's illegal.

The City of Elma, realizing that they can't do what they want in an "executive session," has come up with a new term: a "closed session." This new thing, a "closed session," is different than an executive session. Because it's called something different.

Abraham Lincoln used to tell this joke: "How many legs does a dog have if you count his tail as a leg?" When people answered "five," he would say, "No, four. Because you can call a tail a leg, but it ain't."

You can call an executive session a "closed session" but it ain't.

This article from The (Aberdeen) Daily World describes Elma's proposed resolution to create a "closed session."

This proposed "closed session" violates the Open Public Meetings Act. A "closed session" is not even close to being legal.

TNT Editorial on Yousoufian

This editorial from The (Tacoma) News-Tribune describes the horrors of the Yousoufian case and how the Supreme Court's ruling only emboldens public agencies to do more of the same.

Monday, April 5, 2010

They Work For Us

This piece by Bill Will of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association is dynamite.

Here is our favorite part:
"The result? Too often, it's secret (and illegal) meetings out of earshot of dissenting voices and stubborn refusals to turn over documents to curious constituents. Don't like it? Sue us. And, oh, we'll be represented in court by a lawyer your tax dollars are paying for. You're free to hire counsel on your own dime."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Attorney General: Bungled Records Requests Cost Taxpayers ... And That's Terrible

UPDATE: The Attorney General modified his blog post, which was criticized below. The new version captures what we believe to be Rob McKenna's view of open government. The revised blog post is here. Our old posting about the old version of his blog is below. We thank the Attorney General for clarifying his view on this.

Attorney General Rob McKenna writes this blog piece in which he makes the point that, whether intentional or not, a state or local government's failure to provide public records costs taxpayers a lot.

A fair point. The blog piece goes on to advocate for an optional administrative board to keep these cases out of court, which would lower the cost to taxpayers. So far, so good.

But then the piece implies that records requestors get big payouts from harmless staff mistakes and that the Public Records Act is some kind of lotto for requestors. This hostility to the enforcement mechanisms of the Public Records Act has been building for some time at the Attorney General's Office.

After describing the Harold Carey case, in which Mason County intentionally treated Carey's requests as spam and did not respond to them and then had to pay $150,000 for not even trying to comply with the law, the Attorney General writes: "Carey won $150,000 in fees and fines. Not bad for 'spam' but not such a good deal for Mason County taxpayers."

Harold Carey, a client of Allied Law Group, spent years litigating that case and it cost him far more than the $150,000 he was eventually awarded. He had to sell some land to pay for the case--he had to sell his land because Mason County blatantly violated the law. But he is the bad guy. After losing the case, and therefore no longer subject to penalties, Mason County magically "found" 20,000 pages of public records that were responsive to his request and therefore didn't have to pay an extra dime.

Not bad for not even trying to comply with the law but not such a good deal for Mason County citizens who want their government to follow the law.

The Caste System for Public Records Requestors

This piece from Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center analyzes the fact that now, for the first time ever, there are two classes of public records requestors: the media and everyone else. HB 1317 allows the media (only) to obtain certain police-related records.

This is not an attack on the media; far from it. The media, we know from first-hand knowledge, didn't want to be treated differently than the public when it came to obtaining police records in HB 1317. But the media was given a choice by legislators: only you can get the records or no one can. So the media chose to get the records.

This caste system of public records requestor sets a horrible precedent. We hope this class distinction is eliminated in the next legislative session. We suspect the media will be urging a return to equal access to public records.