The Local Records Committee was created by Chapter 41.14 RCW and its 3 members are the State Archivist and representatives of the State Auditor and Attorney General offices. The Committee approved on December 3, 2015 a new records retention schedule for Washington State local law enforcement agencies. These changes take effect immediately. The modifications to
The Washington State Office of the Attorney General has issued a new addition of its Open Government Resource Manual. The 2015 manual provides information on the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), Chapter 42.30 RCW, and the Public Records Act (PRA), Chapter 42.56 RCW (through October 1, 2015).
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American cities possess a treasure trove of information about their residents, employees, and infrastructure. As state and local governments come under increasing pressure to project greater transparency, cities are beginning to open the doors to their data like never before. Recently, a team of multidisciplinary researchers affiliated with the University of Washington conducted one of …
Yesterday was a busy day for public records issues, as the Washington Supreme Court issued two detailed decisions relating to the State Public Records Act. In Ameriquest Mortgage Co. v. Office of the Attorney General, the Court held records that include personal financial information protected under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 (GLBA) must be withheld from disclosure under Washington’s PRA, even if the protected information could be redacted. On the other hand, in Resident Action Council v. Seattle Housing Authority, the Court held that records including information protected by certain federal housing regulations must be disclosed under Washington’s PRA, after making appropriate redactions.
The Court in Resident Action Council also provided a new disclosure flow chart and exemption categories for agencies to use in determining whether to disclose information or records pursuant to a PRA request.
A Washington State Court of Appeals recently held that an inmate’s public records lawsuit against the State of Washington Department of Corrections (“DOC”) was time-barred, and therefore properly dismissed. Johnson v. Wash. State Dep’t of Corrections, Case No.40831-7-II, 2011 WL 5345375 (Wash. Ct. App. Nov. 8, 2011).
Inmate Robert Johnson’s claim concerned the DOC’s Extended Family Visiting policy (“EFV”). The EFV policy allows an offender to receive private visits from family. Under early versions of the policy, inmates could participate in the EFV program only if they had a “positive prognosis of release”, that is if they would outlive their sentence. Johnson was ineligible for participation in the EFV program, and filed a complaint in federal district court in 2005. The DOC subsequently changed its policy as of June 8, 2006 (though not as a result of Johnson’s claims), eliminating the “positive prognosis of release” requirement.
The Colorado Supreme Court recently held that the Denver Post could not obtain records from the personal cell phone of former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. Denver Post Corp. v. Ritter, —P.3d —, 2011 WL 2449325 (Colo. 2011). The Court found that the newspaper did not clearly state a claim that the cell phone bills were public records under the Colorado Open Records Act (“CORA”).
Governor Ritter had a practice of using two cell phones. The first phone was a state-paid Blackberry, which Ritter used almost exclusively for email. The Governor paid for the second phone, which he used for both personal calls and calls he made in his role as Governor.
In February, thousands of protestors, including many teachers, attended rallies in Wisconsin’s capitol to protest Governor Scott Walker’s proposed limits on collective bargaining for public workers. As a result, schools were closed for a day or more in many districts. Now conservative groups have filed public records requests asking school districts across the state to release the names of teachers who “called in sick” during the protests.
Many districts have complied, but the Madison School District (“District”), which had four days of closures in February, has denied several public records requests. As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, the District is concerned that the release of the teachers’ names could “risk the safety of teachers and students, and disrupt morale and the learning environment in schools.” The requesting groups deny that the information will be used to harm or harass teachers. However, the District’s counsel believes otherwise, citing “a number of threats” made against board members, administrators and district employees as a result of teachers’ participation in the protests.
The Libertarian group Freedom Foundation has recently filed suit against Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, alleging that the Governor withheld public records under an “Executive Privilege” exemption not found in the text of Washington’s Public Records Act (“PRA”), 42.56 RCW.
According to the Foundation’s website, the suit was commenced after a member of the Foundation requested documents from the Governor’s Office in April 2010, including records dealing with “medical marijuana legislation, Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement proposals, and the Columbia River hydro system.” The complaint seeks production of the requested records (some of which were withheld or redacted), attorneys’ fees and penalties for violating the PRA. The complaint only addresses the Governor’s response to the April 2010 request; however the Freedom Foundation has also alleged that since 2007, Gregoire has used the executive privilege 500 times in efforts to withhold records.
The latest public records decision from the U.S. Supreme Court has put Western Washington on the map. The Court held 8-1 that Navy maps showing ammunition stockpiles at Indian Island (in Jefferson County, near Port Townsend) could not be withheld from disclosure under Exemption 2 of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). Exemption 2 allows an entity to withhold records related to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.
In Milner v. Department of the Navy, the Navy argued that release of the maps would threaten public safety; the maps depict distances where damage could result from hypothetical explosions in buildings where weapons, ammunition and explosives are stored. But as reported by the Kitsap Sun, public safety is the very reason the maps were requested by local activist Glen Milner, who wanted information about whether his community might be endangered by the ammunition supply.
Once again the Washington Supreme Court will be called upon to evaluate the reach of the Public Records Act (“PRA”) in the digital age. On Thursday, January 27, 2011, the Court entertained oral argument in Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County v. County of Spokane, No. 84108-0, a case involving Spokane County’s failure to produce missing electronic records ostensibly stored (then erased) off the hard drive of an old, retired County computer.
In 2005, Alliance, a nonprofit government accountability group, made several public records requests seeking documents they believed would expose alleged nepotism in County hiring processes. In response to Alliance’s request, County officials checked the hard drives of the computers its employees were currently using, but did not search computers that were no longer in use (no matter how recently the computers had been retired). The hard drive of a particular computer that may have held the requested information was wiped clean and thereafter, despite Alliance’s outstanding records request, the retired computer was not searched. The parties disagreed as to whether the record did exist on the hard drive, whether the County conducted a proper search, whether the County violated the PRA, and if so, the appropriate level of penalties. The Court of Appeals held that the County did violate the PRA by failing to conduct a “reasonably adequate” search for the complete electronic information requested, and remanded the case to the trial court to determine the resulting penalties, costs and fees.