Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Inept public records management denies access and wastes money

In his excellent "Perspective" piece in the March 2, 2011, Port Townsend Leader, Washington Coalition for Open Government President Toby Nixon outlines the numerous attacks being made by legislators and local government agencies to further hide the public's records from the public.

All records created by any public agency are the property of the State of Washington, and therefore belong to the People.

So why is it that so many public employees seem to feel that the records they deal with every day are somehow are "theirs"?

They will jealously guard access to public records, argue about your right to even ask for them, hide them in unindexed folders that only they know about, and be generally obstructionist when you stand up for your rights and demand to inspect the information that is your right to see. And the longer these people are on the job, the worse this attitude gets.

Example: In response to a public records request for emails to determine if Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley violated the Public Disclosure Act by advocating in support of the county's Prop 1 Sales Tax measure on last November's ballot, county staff complained that they would have to examine about 8,000 emails for exemptions. Ultimately, about 600 emails were found to meet the criteria of the records request, and this process took months – far longer than the "fullest assistance" and "most timely possible action" requirements of the Public Records Act.

Such delaying tactics are a form of indirect discouragement that can have the effect of denying access.

Equally offensive is the fact that, having vetted all of those emails as disclosable, the county did not then post the emails in an online location for others to inspect. So, if another request for similar information is made, county staff will again have to sift through those same thousands of records.

All of that wasted, duplicated effort will cost scarce taxpayer dollars and could so easily be avoided if agencies would just move all of their records to online storage where they could be searched and inspected by anyone at $0 additional taxpayer expense.

Sheer stupidity, and yet so typical of Jefferson County government.