Transparency, accountability too important to sacrifice | EDITORIAL

Transparency, accountability too important to sacrifice | EDITORIAL

Snoqualmie’s public records policy saves a buck at the cost of core American principles.

  • Friday, August 2, 2019 1:30am
  • Opinion

Transparency. Accountability. These are essential to maintaining any free, elected government.

Reviewing public records is one of the most effective ways to ensure your local government is functioning properly. Through public records, an everyday citizen (or a newspaper reporter) can uncover a plethora of wrongdoings — misappropriation, cronyism, and any number of illegal actions.

In Snoqualmie, the city council is more interested in saving a buck than remaining transparent or accountable.

The council recently voted 4-2 to limit public records access. They will spin it, but the truth is the vote of the four council members — Bob Jeans, Katherine Ross, Bryan Halloway and James Mayhew — absolutely limits the public’s access to public records.

Going from 172 staff hours per month to 16 dedicated hours per month to fill public records requests means records requests will not be filled in a timely manner. Not even close to a timely manner. (Other department designated staff may assist the public records clerk for as many as eight hours.)

I’m assuming Councilmember Jeans understood that the new limit is unreasonable and that’s why he twice motioned to increase the new monthly hours limit (first to 50 hours, then to 30), but he was unsuccessful. Why he would then vote for the limited dedicated hours policy is beyond me.

What was the intent of this new limit? It’s hard to prove intent. I won’t speculate. The city’s explanation is that it wants to save a buck. The city is saving that buck at the expense of transparency, and clearly it’s not interested in being held accountable. Others may speculate there is nefarious intent and it’s an attempt to hide unscrupulous activity. Again, I refuse to speculate on the intent.

Surely if the city wanted to save a buck, it could do so elsewhere and still maintain transparency and accountability. Further, it has to be asked, could there be efficiencies in the public records process that could ease the burden? Is the staff member assigned to public records fulfillment capable of competently fulfilling the records requests in a timely, efficient manner? Has staff received appropriate training to fulfill records efficiently?

In fact, the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) sent a letter to the council with suggestions to help with the public records load while also fulfilling the requests in a timely manner. That advice was essentially ignored.

Instead, Bob Jeans, Katherine Ross, Bryan Halloway and James Mayhew voted to limit public records access.

(In North Bend, the city council also recently approved a policy to limit public records staff time; however, that city council aimed for a policy that would not severely hamper records requests. The current workload generates about 21 hours of records work a month, and North Bend’s new policy limits city time to 20 hours.)

Further, the Snoqualmie City Council included language in the policy that prohibits use of a camera, photo or any electronic device while reviewing public records. In snapping a picture of a public record with a smartphone, the public can quickly and efficiently capture that record, thereby saving their own time and city staff time while also ensuring accuracy. Mandating only handwritten notes is backward.

The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, WCOG and the Fire Brigade, a subcommittee of Washington’s Bench-Bar-Press committee, recently challenged similar copy limitations in Eastern Washington with success.

A story in the June 2019 issue of The Washington Newspaper (https://bit.ly/2LFQ0w7) quotes Judge Judith Ramseyer, the current Fire Brigade chair, who said, “…the Washington State Association of County Clerks (WSACC) previously had discussed this issue. Coincidentally, they had a board meeting at the end of last week and offered to again raise the issue. I am happy to report that WSACC agrees County Clerks should not prohibit reporters from photographing court records. Most counties have not. Those few who have no longer will do so.”

Jeans, Ross, Halloway and Mayhew are seemingly not interested in transparency or accountability.

But this seems consistent to the city administration’s course of action. The city limits public comment to three minutes, the city has changed the newspaper of record to a daily newspaper thereby limiting accessibility (likely at a greater cost to the city, and definitely at a greater cost to the public — there goes the argument of fiscal responsibility), and now the city is limiting public access to public records.

Luckily, the public can respond. Both Mayhew and Ross are up for re-election. Both have challengers.

Ross has two challengers and will vie to retain her seat in the Aug. 6 Primary Election. Mayhew’s seat will be on General Election ballots on Nov. 5.

Is transparency important to you? Is accountability important to you? Both are essential to maintaining a free, elected government. We know where Mayhew and Ross stand on transparency and accountability… where do their challengers stand? It is worth asking.

Corey Morris is the regional editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Record.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Vaccinations improve our health and employment numbers | Brunell

It is not surprising that COVID-19, which ravaged the world, was disastrous… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Firefighters vs. the governor’s vaccine mandate | Roegner

We all thought we were in this fight with the coronavirus together,… Continue reading

Providence employees look at anti-vaccine mandate protesters as they cross the street outside of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett on Aug. 18, 2021. Olivia Vanni/Sound Publishing
Editorial: A message to the unvaccinated and unmasked

We know you’re frustrated with mandates and advice, but consider our frustrations and, yes, our anger.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Next year’s elections are already underway | Roegner

The 2021 session of the Washington State Legislature was dominated by the… Continue reading

Screenshot of Voice of America footage from the August 2021 scene at Kabul’s international airport in Afghanistan.
What the Afghan wants to say | Guest column

The American interest in Afghanistan goes back to the Cold War era,… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
King County executive wins battle with suburbs over inquests | Roegner

Since 1854, when Washington was a territory, inquests have been required whenever… Continue reading

In a three-day event ahead of the November 2020 elections, the voting center at Federal Way’s Performing Arts and Event Center saw 1,433 voters, which included 466 newly registered voters. File photo
Editorial: Baseless claims of fraud threaten voter confidence

Without evidence of fraud, it’s those alleging irregularities who are a threat to election integrity.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal told a crowd in Port Angeles he would like to see school districts have the ability to increase their local levies. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)
Message from state superintendent regarding school employee vaccinations

After a year and a half of remote and hybrid learning, my… Continue reading

A Sept. 10, 2020, satellite image shows smoke from U.S. wildfires blanketing the majority of the West Coast. (European Space Agency)
Editorial: The UN climate report, ‘The Lorax’ and us

The report and the Dr. Seuss classic offer a dire warning — and hope — for responding to climate change.

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
Financial reality about re-introducing mask mandates | Guest column

The recent flare-up the COVID delta variant is a good example of… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Look forward to an exciting November election | Roegner

King County Executive Dow Constantine was expected to win the August primary,… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
It’s time to rethink Washington’s long-term care law | Brunell

Time is short, but action is necessary. Gov. Jay Inslee and Democrats… Continue reading