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Published on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Preliminary report on local government public records requests

Last week, staff from the William D. Ruckelshaus Center presented their preliminary findings about local government public records requests to two House committees. The fifteen minute presentation can be viewed below.

The Center’s work stems from a proviso in the 2013–15 Washington State Operating Budget, which directed the Center to “collaborate with representatives of the public, the media, and local governments regarding public records requests made to local government” and “report to the appropriate committees of the Legislature.” The report is to include recommendations related to balancing the need for open public records with concerns of local governments over abusive requests.

Over the past several months, the Center interviewed approximately 35 people representing diverse interests, including AWC’s Candice Bock and several city representatives. AWC has actively participated in the Center’s effort as a way of finding mutually agreeable solutions to abusive public records requests. In addition, one of our significant legislative issues in the upcoming session is to seek funding for the second phase of the Center’s efforts.

While the Center’s final report will not be submitted to the Legislature until mid-December, the Center summarized several initial findings, including:

  • Universal support for the intent of the Public Records Act.
  • Widespread acknowledgement that while some abusive requestors are impacting several small local governments across the state, the majority of records requests are reasonable.
  • Differences between parties about how local governments are impacted by requests and who benefits from the current system of legal penalties and monetary awards.
  • Recommendations for local governments to document records requests and the time spent fulfilling them, improved records management systems, and a collaborative effort between interested parties.

We’ll share the Center’s final report when it is available next month.  

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