As the Legislature hits full stride, open government initiatives and reforms continue to make headlines and receive editorial ink.

The Tacoma News Tribune reports that newly sworn-in Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants to reinstate a full time open-government ombudsman in the Attorney General’s Office. The Tribune also notes his support for HB 1198, requiring training for public officials and employees on public records and open meetings.

Citing a potential Gold Bar bankruptcy stemming from public records act requests and lawsuits, public officials lobbied for HB 1128, which allows an agency to seek an injunction against requesters who seek to harass or intimidate the agency or its employees, the Everett Herald reports. The bill also allows agencies to limit employee hours spent compiling responses to PRA requests if those agencies provide several types of records online.

The Olympian offers a different perspective on HB1128. Citing the continuing “assault” on the Public Records Act, the Olympian’s editorial board finds the attempted tradeoff between agency efficiency and openness “unsatisfactory.”

Citing the Public Disclosure Commission’s role as election watchdog, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin editorial board offered its support to Rep. Jim Moeller’s effort bolster PDC funding. HB 1005 would require annual fees from political committees, politicians and lobbyists who file with the PDC. Proponents expect about $600,000 a year in additional revenue for the agency.

The Washington Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Tacoma News Tribune to see the videotaped deposition of a primary witness against a former Washington State trial judge. Tacoma News Inc. v. Cayce  (July 14, 2011). [Tacoma News, Inc. v. Cayce (Dissent)]

The primary witness in the underlying criminal case had long evaded a court subpoena and was being held in jail as a material witness until he could be deposed. The prosecutors scheduled a videotaped deposition to preserve the witness testimony, fearing the witness would again disappear. The deposition was held in the Pierce County courthouse so that it would be easier for the jail guards to escort and guard the witness. At the parties’ request, Judge Cayce, the visiting judge from King County, was also present in the otherwise-empty courtroom to make rulings, if necessary, as the deposition proceeded. As it turned out, the witness did actually appear to testify, and the videotaped deposition was never offered nor produced at trial.

Continue Reading Depositions That Are Not Used in a Case – Even Those Held Before a Judge in a Courtroom – Are not Open to the Public

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.

Continue Reading Can Disruption at a Public Meeting Lead to a Moveable Feast? Yes, But Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act Requires that the New Location be Decided by Vote

In our posting on November 18, 2010, we noted the reported complaint by a Sumner City Councilmember against the City’s mayor and others. The claim arose from comments adverse to the councilmember made in an open, public meeting of the Sumner City Council. The councilmember asserted that the use of public city council meetings for such political comment was a violation of law. With limited exceptions, Washington law prohibits the use of public property and resources for political purposes. See RCW 42.17.130. The Tacoma News Tribune has now reported that the Councilmember’s allegations have been rejected by the State’s Public Disclosure Commission.