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Tag: Open Government

April
20th

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.

Jan.
13th

AG’s office: Pierce County exec, council meetings could violate open meeting rules

Yesterday I reported that Pierce County Council Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham, had rejected a proposal by County Executive Pat McCarthy to improve communication between the branches of government.

McCarthy proposed expanding her weekly one-on-one meeting with Bush to include two members of her staff and two other council members. Bush expressed concern that such an arrangement could violate the state Open Meetings Act, which requires government bodies to meet in public.

I asked Tim Ford, open government ombudsman for the state Attorney General’s Office, what he thought.

Ford said it’s difficult to say whether the arrangement would violate

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Jan.
12th

Applicant: Tacoma City Council appointment process “ethically flawed”

In an email sent earlier this week to fellow applicants and Tacoma City Council members,  Jim Hoard — one of the original 44 candidates vying for appointment to the two vacant council seats — criticized the council’s selection process and says it should be immediately “terminated” for the council to salvage its reputation.

Hoard, a retired Boeing senior manager and research scientist who has been active in local causes — including the effort to save the Murray Morgan Bridge, took issue with the way the council approved eight finalists to move on in the appointment process.

As we’ve reported here and here, some lawyers who specialize in open government have questioned whether the council may have violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when naming the finalists last week.  After meeting in a closed executive session, council members emerged in a public meeting to approve the eight finalists to move forward. The approvals were made without discussion and unanimously.

State law says that decision-making bodies may evaluate such candidates qualifications,  but cannot make decisions behind hind closed doors. Tacoma City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli has said the council members did not overstep its authority when approving the finalists.

The eight finalists are set to be interviewed publicly today at the council’s noon study session,  to be held in council chambers.  The interviews will be broadcast live on TV Tacoma Channel 12.  The city council is expected to make final appointments on Thursday, and have scheduled an executive session for 8 a.m. to discuss the finalists.

In his lengthy email sent on Jan. 11, Hoard wrote, among other things, a two-act play that parodies what might have gone down in the council’s executive session regarding the finalist selections.

Hoard went on to conclude:

…the process is already so ethically flawed that it cannot be redeemed and must be terminated–before the Council damages its reputation irremediably.

But should the council decide to do a do-over — and there has been no indication it will — Hoard said he wants no part of the process.

In closing, I should like to state emphatically that should the City Council start the selection process over, I most definitely do not want to be considered as an applicant for one of the vacant positions.

The full text of Hoard’s email follows is reprinted below.
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Jan.
7th

Did Tacoma council’s executive session actions violate Open Meetings Act?

Last evening, after writing my story for today’s paper about the Tacoma City Council’s actions yesterday to name eight finalists in the appointment process for two vacant city council seats, Councilman Jake Fey returned a call I’d placed to him earlier in the day.

I asked Fey about how the seven sitting council members came up with the eight finalists in the council’s executive session. But before I get to his response, some background:

Tacoma CCAfter a two-hour closed meeting, the council held a brief public meeting yesterday, during which members unanimously approved eight consecutive motions, without discussion, that named eight finalists among an original pool of 44 applicants. The finalists will be brought back for public interviews with the council next week.

As I wrote about today, some experts in open government law question if the council properly followed the state’s Open Meetings Act and the prevailing case law on it. The law says that during executive sessions, councils are allowed to evaluate candidate qualifications, but they are prohibited from taking any kind of vote or otherwise coming to agreement or consensus made during such closed-door meetings. Any vote-taking needs to be done in public, according to the law.
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Jan.
5th

Lots of open government talk at Lakewood council meeting

There was plenty of talk about government transparency at the Lakewood City Council meeting Monday.

As I reported last week, the city’s management hopes lawmakers can figure out a way that cities can recoup some of the cost they endure from people who habitually request public documents, which can require one, maybe two staffers tending to a single request.

One resident, public meetings regular Fredric Cornell, requested almost 78,000 pages worth of documents from Lakewood last year. The city estimated that by late October, his requests had cost almost $16,000 worth of staff time and resources.

On Monday, four residents told the Lakewood City Council that it should, if anything, work to become more transparent.

Paul Wagemann, a Clover Park School District board member, said the city’s approach to solving the dilemma appears more like an effort to be less transparent.

“Let’s make it as open as we possibly can,” he said, adding that, “The more we can get people involved, the better the community will be.”
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Nov.
25th

Pierce County will retain e-mails for six years under new records policy

Pierce County will retain employee e-mails for at least six years under a new policy announced today.

County Executive Pat McCarthy said the move makes information contained in county e-mails more accessible to the public.

“I ran (for executive) on open and transparent government,” McCarthy said. “This policy is in keeping with a philosophy of making sure we provide access to information for citizens.”

State law provides public access to most government records. As governments rely more on e-mail, databases and other electronic records, access to those records has become a big issue among open government advocates.

Under a previous policy established in 1999, county e-mails were automatically purged from the county’s computer system 14 days after employees deleted them from their in-box. To save them permanently, employees had to print and file them away.

Under the new policy, the county will electronically store most e-mail messages and attachments for at least six years. After that, they’re purged.

Some messages – like spam and draft e-mails that were never sent – will not be archived. Others will be retained for more than six years.

The county has new archiving software that will make the records easier to search as well as store.

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