In 1972, when state voters enacted the Public Disclosure Act, they made a Declaration of Policy, providing:
mindful of the right of individuals to privacy and of the desirability of the efficient administration of government, full access to information concerning the conduct of government on every level must be assured as a fundamental and necessary precondition to the sound governance of a free society.
RCW 42.17.010(11) (emphasis added). The Public Records Act (PRA) was a component of the Public Disclosure Act, and later separated into a separate provision of State law.
In two recent opinions from Division I of the Washington State Court of Appeals, the Court has rejected claims under the PRA that would have interfered with the efficient administration of government.
In Koenig v. Pierce County, the Court recognized that counties are made up of several distinct agencies. As a result, when Mr. Koenig made a public records request to the Office of the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney, the Prosecutor's Office was not required to search for records in the Sherriff’s Office.
In ACLU v. City of Seattle, the court held at under the PRA (at RCW 42.56.280), a city does not have to release records related to union contract negotiations while those negotiations are ongoing. The state voters had approved an exemption from the general disclosure obligation when non-disclosure serves the public interest. Here, in applying that exemption, the Court noted:
“Public scrutiny of contract issues discussed prior to completing negotiations might be misconstrued, and disclosure would hinder a vital part of the bargaining process—the free exchange of views, opinions, and proposals.”