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Disclosure should not be selective
Recently this newspaper made a request for correspondence between North Bend's elected officials under the Freedom of Information Act. We received a few e-mails back regarding the requested information, but it became clear that we did not get all the correspondence that had occurred between elected officials.
The idea behind the Freedom of Information Act is accountability and openness. Elected officials are under a closer scrutiny than the average person to make sure all city business, with a few exceptions, is discussed in the open. The goal is that decisions are not made in the absence of openness but are available for all to see and judge.
Unfortunately, some on the North Bend City Council have turned a blind eye to openness and disclosure, forcing this newspaper to send a complaint to the Washington State Auditor's Office. We also discussed the problem with our representative on the Washington Coalition for Open Government, as well as the Washington Newspaper Publisher's Association.
There will likely be excuses or even someone crying foul over our complaint, but a lack of knowledge of the law is not an acceptable excuse for lack of disclosure.
Any correspondence that deals with city business is subject to disclosure. Yes, there are a few exceptions, but our request did not meet any of the allowed exemptions. If an elected official types an e-mail at home, on their own computer, using their own e-mail address and the e-mail discusses city business, it is subject to disclosure and can be requested by the public.
To quote Lyndon B. Johnson upon his signing of the Freedom of Information Act in 1966, "This legislation springs from one of our most essential principles: a democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the nation permits. No one should be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest."
I would venture to say that nothing to do with the city of North Bend conflicts with national security and only employee discussions and some financial transactions are exemptions, and even some of those are subject to disclosure.
I also understand there may be a lack of knowledge on the elected officials' part and would encourage them to understand the requirements of the law. There are several books available on the Freedom of Information Act and your city attorney can likely fill in the blanks.
The technology age has made it even easier to communicate. Controls need to be established by both Snoqualmie and North Bend to ensure that all e-mail regarding city business from elected officials is recorded. Maybe the establishment of city-based e-mail addresses is the answer. Something that can be conveniently checked from home, work, city hall or even as a person travels. This may help ensure that all city correspondence is recorded.
I am confident that North Bend's elected officials want to do the right thing. This gives us confidence that everything is being done in the open.