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Category: Open Government


Open Records Act forum Thursday at TNT

You couldn’t tell it by looking outside, but it’s Sunshine Week – an occasion to remember the importance of open government and freedom of information in our democracy.

To help mark the week, the League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County is inviting the public to a forum on the state’s Open Public Records Act. It’s Thursday at 6:15 p.m. here at The News Tribune, 1950 S. State St. (We’re a co-sponsor, along with the Pierce County Public Library, ACLU of Pierce County, Tacoma Public Library and Washington Coalition for Open Government.)

A panel of experts will

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Open government? Senate committee creates “joint caucus” behind closed doors

The Legislature is already exempt from a key provision of open meetings laws allowing for a traditional fixture of legislative bodies – the caucus.

The members of each party go behind closed doors to discuss legislation and party business. That has spread recently to committees in which all the Democrats go into one room and all the Republicans go into another. It is far more common in the House than the Senate.

In both cases, they come out and conduct debate and vote-taking in public (although sometimes it seems orchestrated).

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe

Thursday, however, the term “caucus” took on a new meaning. Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee Chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe, a Democrat from Bothell, adjourned her public hearing and convened a “joint caucus.” That’s a term that means all members of the committee – both Republicans and Democrats – go into the same closed door to talk in private.

The only difference between a committee meeting and a “joint caucus” appears to be that the first is open to the public and the second is closed.

They were to meet for 40 minutes, until the end of the committee’s normal two-hour time block. And McAuliffe said she would do the same thing every Thursday at the end of the public meeting.

McAuliffe said the topic would be bipartisanship. Read more »


Puyallup Sen. Jim Kastama says he’ll introduce resolution to not seat fellow Democrat Nick Harper due to Moxie Media scandal

This clearly is not going to make Sen. Jim Kastama popular with his Democratic leaders. But the Puyallup lawmaker said he will introduce a resolution before newly elected Sen. Nick Harper is sworn in Monday to deny him his seat.

Kastama said he believes improper and illegal actions by a Seattle political consultant changed the results of a primary election that saw Harper defeat incumbent Democrat Jean Berkey.

“I cannot in good conscience vote to seat a senator whose election was altered by an illegal action,” Kastama said. “The documents I have seen, including signed affidavits, show there is no doubt that Moxie Media’s actions were illegal and that they were responsible for changing the outcome of the election.

“These actions shifted a sure primary election victory from Sen. Jean Berkey to a razor-thin victory for Rod Rieger, a candidate whose support and campaign efforts were largely nonexistent.”

Moxie Media and its co-owner Lisa Collins MacLean have been sued in civil court by state Attorney General Rob McKenna for four violations of campaign finance disclosure law. They arose out of her efforts to defeat Berkey on behalf of a coalition of labor and trial lawyers groups.

A state Public Disclosure Commission investigation found that MacLean purposefully delayed disclosure and created multiple layers of political action committees to make sure the source of money for the campaign was not made public until after the election.

Part of the effort to defeat Berkey, deemed not liberal enough by the interest groups, was to run a shadow campaign for conservative candidate Rieger, thus denying Berkey votes from both the left and the right. She ended up finishing third in the top-two primary and Harper went on to win the general election. Read more »


Initiative signers’ names available for viewing

The Office of the Secretary of State is making copies of 11 initiative petitions available for public inspection at the State Archives. The Washington Coalition for Open Government says the decision to make them available came after the coalition requested it.

Nine of the measures were sponsored by Tim Eyman. He is still pursuing a legal challenge in Thurston County Superior Court that would prevent the public disclosure of petition signers’ names – on grounds it is chilling of free speech rights. Here is WCOG’s news release:

In a breakthrough for open government in Washington, citizens now can easily inspect signature petitions gathered by initiative king Tim Eyman and other initiative sponsors. All it takes is a visit to the State Archives in Olympia.

Thanks to a request by the Washington Coalition for Open Government — a government watchdog group — Secretary of State Sam Reed has placed copies of signed petitions for eleven initiatives at the archives for free public inspection. Nine of the initiatives were sponsored by Eyman.

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Trade Center director Anthony Hemstad wins open government award

It wasn’t related to his current job – executive director of the World Trade Center Tacoma. Instead, Anthony Hemstad‘s “Key Award” from the Washington State Council for Open Government was presented for his work in opening up the actions of a hospital district in King County.

Hemstad was nominated by former Secretary of State Ralph Munro.

Here’s the description of Hemstad’s work in the release from WCOG:

Anthony Hemstad, a commissioner for King County Hospital District No. 1, is being honored for his effort to bring transparency reforms to the governing body of Valley Medical Center. The district was sanctioned by the state Public Disclosure Commission for misusing public funds in the run‐up to a failed 2005 annexation election and weathered more public criticism for approving a lavish retirement package for the hospital’s chief executive.

Hemstad ran as a reform candidate on a 10‐point platform designed to open the workings of the district to taxpayers. Since his election, the district has begun videotaping its meetings and posting its meeting agenda and minutes on the internet.

“I care deeply about public policy, and frankly, I’m proud to be a public servant,” Hemstad, who is also Executive Director World Trade Center Tacoma, told a local newspaper. “When a government breaks the law, I consider that both a disservice to society and a personal insult.”

Also winning were Eric Rachner, a computer expert who discovered misuse of dashboard videos by the Seattle Police, and the Yakima Herald-Republic which waged an expensive battle to get records on what Yakima County spent to defend murder suspects.

Here are the WCOG’s description of those awards: Read more »


Ombudsman: Tacoma’s billboards settlement raises open government questions

The city’s approved settlement with Clear Channel Outdoor over a federal lawsuit about billboards came up quickly and quietly, added as a last minute agenda item to last week’s council meeting a few hours after the council met to discuss the issue in a closed-door executive session.

(The settlement, which we wrote about here and here, essentially would allow Clear Channel to build as many as 36 new digital billboards in the city if it removes up to 240 current billboards and relinquishes up to 169 permits it now holds to build new ones. City officials have said if maxed out, the deal would remove as much as 85 percent of current billboards. The settlement also means Clear Channel would drop its federal lawsuit alleging constitutional violations against the city’s 1997 ordinance that called for large billboards to be removed by 2007.)

At last week’s council meeting, after Mayor Marilyn Strickland read a lengthy statement explaining details of the settlement, the council voted unanimously — and without discussion — to approve the deal’s terms.

Ever since, several council members have been reluctant to speak with me about the settlement — either by not returning my calls, offering no comment for the record, or, speaking very carefully and/or generally about the issue (In general, some members have told me the settlement is a good deal that will take most billboards off the street and largely protect the residential atmosphere of most neighborhoods, plus end an ongoing and costly lawsuit).

The council’s handling of the issue is reminiscent of its process to name finalists for appointment to two open council seats earlier this year. After a closed-door meeting, the council emerged from an executive session then, and, without discussion, unanimously approved eight finalists from more than 40 applicants to advance in the appointment process. The News Tribune ultimately filed a lawsuit over the council’s actions then, winning a first-of-its-kind court ruling that ordered the council to audio record any further closed sessions regarding the appointment. On Sunday, Peter Callaghan opined about the similarities of the council’s actions then with last week’s billboard settlement.

Tim Ford, open government ombudsman for the state Attorney General’s Office, told me last week he won’t go so far as to say whether the council’s executive session actions this time around were or weren’t legal without knowing more about what went on behind closed doors. But, the council’s in-public actions certainly raise questions, he said.

“Whenever there’s some lack of (public) discussion, I always have a question as to why,” Ford said. “I think where there’s an opportunity where they could hold some discussion, then they should.”
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Supreme Court rules signatures can be released

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning that Washington may publicly release the names of voters who sign petitions in support of ballot measures.

The 8-1 decision, with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, is a victory for gay rights groups and for Secretary of State Sam Reed, as well as for Attorney General Rob McKenna, who argued the case.

Backers of Referendum 71, which tried unsuccessfully to repeal the law expanding same-sex domestic partnership benefits, argued releasing names of their supporters would subject them to harassment.

But Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion that the state law requiring

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McKenna, Reed hopeful in R-71 signatures case

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments next week in Washington’s Referendum 71 case, deciding whether petition signers’ names are subject to public disclosure as a simple matter of public record.

The Supreme Court has never weighed in on the question, Republican state Attorney General Rob McKenna says. He told reporters in Olympia on Monday he’s already been through some practice sessions with his staff in Olympia, and he’s hopeful of prevailing on the argument that signing a petition is more akin to an act of legislation than to voting, which is secret.

Read full post.