Open records important
I just read the Opinion piece entitled “Facts are Too Important to Ignore” in today’s newspaper and want to commend the editorial staff.
The Valley Record’s stance against allowing the Snoqualmie City Council members to print falsehoods under the guise of a letter to the editor is why I pay money to subscribe to this paper.
Too many people today think that good government is cheap and that cost cutting is a reasonable solution to increasing numbers public records requests. Of course those requests are not enjoyable for city staff and of course it takes significant time/effort to address, but the alternative to complying with those laws is so much worse.
If we want to live in a democracy, if we want to meaningfully engage in politics, we must understand what our elected leaders are doing in our name. Any amount saved by functionally refusing to answer public records requests will eventually be drowned by the tidal wave of graft and corruption that will follow if our leaders do not know they’re being held accountable.
We already saw a glimpse of that with former Parks and Public Works director Daniel Marcinko ethics investigation in 2018 and subsequent retirement. I do not know Mr. Marcinko or what his true intentions were, but it is clear from the investigation that he violated ethics rules and it further stands to reason that he would still be working for the city today if not for a concerned citizen filing an ethics complaint. (EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2018, Marcinko was found in violation of section 2.80.030.1.A of the city’s ethics code, which states employees should not engage in a transaction or activity that would appear to be in conflict or incompatible with the employee’s official duties. Marcinko’s ethics violation was not mentioned in his retirement announcement.)
While there are no easy solutions to funding necessary accountability mechanisms in a growing city such as Snoqualmie, it is also worth noting that compliance with the open records law is not optional. The last thing we can afford to do is allow our elected (and unelected) city employees to ignore their legally mandated responsibilities under the guise of fiscal constraints.
In closing, I just want to thank everyone at the Valley Record again for doing a thankless job in a very difficult atmosphere for honest, adversarial local journalism. This paper is well worth the $40 per year.
Justin Van Alstyne
Some limitations make sense
Regarding the city of Snoqualmie’s public records request policies, I don’t have a horse in the race, aside from living and paying taxes in Snoqualmie, but I am predisposed to being sympathetic to the need for some limitations. After all, taxpayers will be on the hook for however many hours are spent on such requests.
I’ve looked over the records requests from the past year and a half, and there are indeed just a few folks who are utilizing an inordinate amount of public resources for reasons that may or may not be substantive. The average amount of time spent on other, more typical requests was right around 16 hours per month, so allocating 16-24 hours per month of tax-payer funded resources to fulfilling public records requests sounds about right to me. (The Washington Coalition for Open Government president, Toby Nixon, recommended increasing this to 172 hours per month; a seemingly excessive number, which would require the addition of four full-time employees and/or significantly impact other essential city functions.)
Perhaps the city of Snoqualmie could’ve handled this better by emphasizing a broader set of guidelines, rather than a specific time constraint. For example, the city of Seattle has policies in place which prioritize requests in order to accommodate the greatest number of requesters in the shortest amount of time possible, with “extraordinary” requests from frequent requesters having resources apportioned more judiciously over a longer period of time. The city of Seattle alludes to the “specific allocation of time and resources” for public records requests, without being offputtingly specific.
Getting to the heart of the issue, if the city of Snoqualmie starts to flat-out refuse fulfilling public records requests, then we may have a problem. However, if a few folks have to wait longer for their “extraordinary” requests to be completed, then that seems reasonable to me.
Other options for aquatics
I just read this week’s article on expanding the Snoqualmie community center and the $10 million plus price tag for the same (“Snoqualmie community center expansion talks ongoing,” published on Aug. 23, 2019).
In my opinion Snoqualmie should purchase the vacant IGA grocery facility on the Ridge and convert it to an aquatics center.
Or if this doesn’t appear feasible, then maybe they could use the Mount Si High School freshmen facility instead?
This location would make it easier for low-income families in both Snoqualmie and North Bend to access.