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Published on Monday, February 8, 2016

Public records reform for local government

Cities are committed to open and transparent government. Adopted in 1972, the Public Records Act is a key component to ensure transparency in government. Cities dedicate significant resources to managing and responding to records requests, most of which are straightforward – copies of meeting minutes, police reports, building permits, budgets, etc. Cities are now seeing disturbing growth in requests that are much more burdensome. Serial, harassing, and profit-motivated requestors are impeding cities’ ability to respond to the average resident’s records requests, and creating a costly burden for local government.

AWC’s priority bill, HB 2576, will help cities

HB 2576, sponsored by Rep. Joan McBride (D-Kirkland) and Rep. Terry Nealey (R-Dayton), is a modest proposal to provide some alternatives for local government and requestors alike.

The bill would enact the following:

  • Allow local agencies to set reasonable limits on the amount of time they will dedicate each month to fulfilling records requests in order to preserve resources for essential services.
  • Establish a Public Records Commission that will offer voluntary alternative dispute resolution for public records disputes. The commission’s services will be available to both local agencies and requestors.
  • Direct 20% of any fines under the Public Records Act into an account to help fund the newly-established Public Records Commission.

Talk with legislators, constituents, and the media about public records abuses

  • Contact your legislators and ask them to support HB 2576. It needs to pass the House by the cutoff deadline of February 17.
  • Educate your community members about your city’s commitment to open and transparent government, and the challenges that this decades-old law creates.
    • Discuss your city’s challenges at council meetings.
    • Share information about the law and its challenges with community groups.
  • Tell your local media that the abundance of serial and harassing requests impede cities’ ability to respond to the average resident’s records requests and wastes taxpayer dollars. Consider writing an op-ed for your local paper about your city’s story.

Share these points when discussing the need for public records reform

  • Cities are committed to the principles of open and transparent government, and dedicate significant resources to managing and responding to records requests.
  • Harassing, serial and retaliatory requestors are exploiting the Public Records Act for their own purposes, not for public benefit. These requestors tie up significant resources with frequent and broad requests, slow down the public records process for everyone else, and drain limited public resources away from essential services.
  • Cities and requestors need a quick and less expensive option for resolving disputes other than going to court. Going to court is costly for both parties. It would be beneficial to everyone to have a voluntary process that is faster and cheaper to resolve disputes.

Please share your local experiences and the impact on your community, and how this legislation could help.

For a printer-friendly version of the talking points above, click here.

Categories: Open government