On The Willis Report (FOX NEWS, July 29, 2010), a regular FOX Business News broadcast, host Gerri Willis reviewed some of the issues surrounding efforts to gather information about the salary of public officials in Bell, California. Gerri interviewed Steve DiJulio, a Foster Pepper lawyer and regular contributor to this blog. Steve discussed that many cities, before the Bell scandal, publicly posted salary information on their websites. He also discussed the process for gaining access to salary information of public officers and employees. Watch the interview here.
The Washington Attorney General has called for legislation to create an administrative board to manage disputes over Public Record Act claims. The legislation is not likely to be considered until 2011. In an op-ed piece in Crosscut, AG Rob McKenna noted during "Sunshine Week" that this would save substantial costs when compared with the current process of litigation.
A Pennsylvania appeals court recently overturned a trial court ruling that allowed the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) to withhold the complete list of the recipients of goods and services PEMA purchased with Homeland Security funds in response to a disclosure request from a Pittsburgh newspaper reporter. Bowling v. Office of Open Records, 2010 Westlaw 395637, February 5, 2010. The Court found that while disclosing the location of certain items, such as computer servers and biochemical testing equipment could be harmful to security, identifying the number and location of such items as bungee cords would not. The Court explicitly acknowledged the “enormity of the task” that individually identifying the non-sensitive items would create for PEMA, but nevertheless held that Pennsylvania’s new disclosure law required greater access to the Commonwealth’s public records.
Yesterday’s editions of the Olympian and the Spokesman-Review reported that the Attorney General and the State Auditor held the first meeting of their jointly created Open Government Task Force this last Monday. This Task Force is distinguished from the legislatively-created Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee (the “Sunshine Committee“), which is charged with reviewing all exemptions to the Public Disclosure Act on an annual basis and making recommendations to repeal or amend exemptions to the Public Records Act. According to an Attorney General press release, the Open Government Task Force was created “to study and make recommendations on the creation of an administrative board to rule on complaints of violations of the Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act.” The Attorney General’s website provides that the Task Force is charged with determining “an efficient and inexpensive solution…to resolve complaints and provide greater access to public records and public meetings while reducing costs to government agencies and the public.”
Update (April 22, 2009) — Happy Earth Day
In this editorial, Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr responds to an earlier editorial about his role in the “closed door” meeting controversy. The two editorials serve to highlight an often overlooked point — the public’s perception of a government’s compliance with open government laws can be more important than the government’s strict compliance with those laws. One of the primary purposes of open government laws like the Open Public Meetings Act and the Public Records Act is to build public trust. If the public thinks the government is trying to keep something secret that should be public, it builds distrust.