Arthur West, well known to those who follow open government issues in Washington State, had another of his lawsuits rebuffed by the Court of Appeals. In an unpublished decision, Division II rejected his Public Records Act and Open Public Meeting Act claims against the Washington Public Ports Association. The Court also declined to decide whether or
The Tacoma News Tribune recently raised questions about whether the Washington State Redistricting Commission violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act by carrying out its work behind closed doors and through "shuttle diplomacy" amongst its partisan members. A follow-up editorial today quoted one of the Commission’s members about the unworkability of redistricting being carried out …
In an editorial on December 9, 2011, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin commented as follows:
Dec. 09 — The budget discussion between Sheriff John Turner and the three county commissioners got heated this week when it veered off course.
Instead of focusing on the specifics of the budget, the meeting became a debate over whether commissioners Gregg Loney, Greg Tompkins and Perry Dozier should meet individually with Turner and his command staff to discuss and develop strategic plans for the Sheriff’s Office.
It is simply not the job of the county commissioners to help develop strategic plans for the Sheriff’s Office. That is the sole responsibility of the county sheriff, who is directly elected by the people of Walla Walla County.
The Board of County Commissioners is a legislative body. The commissioners are elected to oversee the overall operation of the county, which includes establishing the budget.
On November 25, 2011, Sharon Salyer of The Herald reported on Everett School Board planning to hold a forum early next year to discuss open government. The following is a reprint of the article in full:
Controversy has swirled around the Everett School Board all year over openness and transparency.
The school board now plans to hold a forum early next year to have outside experts discuss issues such as the state Open Public Meetings Act and the steps involved in getting records from government agencies.
Ed Petersen, school board president, suggested during a meeting Tuesday night that the school district contact a nonpartisan group, such as the League of Women Voters. The group could help select the experts who would speak on the state’s open-government laws.
The goal is to have the event in January or February, Petersen said. It would give the public an opportunity to talk about openness in government.
A Federal District Court in Connecticut recently ruled that the Middletown Common Council did not violate the First Amendment when it passed a resolution limiting speech during televised Council meetings to items on the agenda. Smith v. City of Middletown, 2011 WL 3859738 (D.Conn. 2011).
Prior to October 2006, the Council reserved the beginning of Council meetings for the public to speak on topics not on the meeting agenda. This segment of the meeting devoted to non-agenda items was televised. In October 2006, the Council unanimously voted to change the Council meeting format to move the segment on non-agenda items to the end of the Council meeting and to not televise that segment. Members of the public were still allowed to address the Council regarding items on the agenda during the regular Council meeting, which continued to be televised.
In 1959, the Washington legislature recognized the Washington Association of County Officials (WACO) as a statewide “coordinating agency” of county officials. In Washington State, many counties have independently elected assessors, auditors, clerks, coroners, sheriffs, treasurers and prosecuting attorneys. These positions are separate from the separately elected county commissioners or county councilmembers and executive. WACO is also distinct from the Washington State Association of Counties, Washington (WSAC), Public Ports Association and similar organizations. In 2008, a claim was brought against WACO claiming that it was subject to the Washington Open Public Meetings Act or “OPMA.” OPMA had been adopted in 1971 as part of a package of open government provisions, including campaign finance and public record disclosure.
The Tacoma News Tribune reports that the Puyallup School Board may have run afoul of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act (“OPM”) when it adjourned a disruptive meeting to a new location without disclosing where that was.
The Puyallup School Board faced a rowdy crowd at its May 9 meeting – a vociferous display of support for a local high school Principal who had submitted his resignation. When the time came to vote on whether to accept or reject the Principal’s resignation, shouting and chants from the crowd reportedly disrupted all order at the meeting. The Board President announced an adjournment of the meeting to another location.
The Washington State Senate has passed Substitute Senate Bill 5553, which requires that most public agencies owning and maintaining a website post certain information, including agendas, legislation and minutes.
SSB 5553 adds a new section to chapter 42.30 RCW, the Open Public Meetings Act. The text of SSB 5553 is available here.
While the …
Has the Obama Administration effected real change in FOIA responsiveness? A recent Associated Press article, claims that the federal Freedom of Information Act is unwieldy and difficult, and that only the most patient and persistent requesters actually obtain the sought-for information. The article is critical of agencies’ efforts in implementing President Obama’s promise to make government more open and release more information rapidly.
During an event sponsored for Sunshine Week, March 13-19, reported in the AP article, Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli is quoted as stating that more records are going out unredacted than ever before. “Where we once might have looked at a document, noticed a piece that could be released, and redacted the rest, we’re now more often determining that we can release the whole thing,” Perrelli is quoted as saying. However, a witness before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Fitton of Judicial Watch, stated that the conservative watchdog group has “filed 44 lawsuits to force the Obama administration to comply with the law.”
In this era of WikiLeaks’ disclosure of secret State Department and military cables, the question of what is and what is not “confidential” government information has become more opaque.
Conflicting viewpoints on the issue of what is “confidential” also arise in the local government context, as reported in the February 28, 2011 edition of the Everett Herald: “Legality of disclosing executive session information not an easy call.”
The Everett Herald reported on the censure of an Everett School Board member for disclosing information from a closed, executive session about a potential building purchase. But, the newspaper noted there is a real dispute between the school board and the censured school board member about whether the information she discussed potential acquisition of an office building for multiple educational uses was already public knowledge.