LETTER: Some Thoughts on Public Records Requests & the City Council
Dear SeaTac City Council,
I just watched the video of the last Council meeting (07/24/12) and of note were Council Member Gregerson’s comments on Public Records Requests (PRR’s). Posting the cost of them I have no problem with, however, this does not address the “why” of the increase in the last few years.
In posting the cost of PRR’s addresses only the symptom of the problem not the actual cause. The actual cause is distrust of local government brought on mostly by the elected officials themselves. In our own City we have found abuse by elected officials of our systems, data, and access to City held records for political purposes (not to mention insulting private Citizens). These abuses could not have been found without PRR’s.
It is ironic that the Council Member who triggered the increase (you recall “lunatic”) is the one who also is being investigated for the abuse, and appears to be the biggest violator is also the one wanting to curb/post the costs. Why am I not surprised? If a public official’s integrity is questioned and indeed shortcomings verified by a PRR, it is logical Citizens may want to look at other elected officials.
What also was left out was the fact that most of the increase was due to information gathering for business entities that needed information for legal purposes in various negotiations with the City. These are necessary and in the course of doing business with our City considering actions BY the City in the past.
Our policies have not caught up with technology. The ability is out there to store, index, and lookup data without manual intervention. What is lacking is the will to do it for fear of embarrassing emails, data, and communications by our government officials/employees (local and up). This is unwarranted and I for one recognize we all make mistakes and without the Public disclosure there is no motivation to not to repeat them.
Even as a private citizen my emails to the City have been requested via PRR and I piggybacked on that request. I have no problem with that and as I was going through memory lane found I was more humorous in some of them that I thought. I don’t put “pen to paper” arbitrarily and with email there is always the danger where you hit the SEND button without thinking it through and it may go to people it was not intended for.
While not a perfect solution I suggest the following:
- If you are a government official/employee, use email knowing it can be made public.
- Gossip (unavoidable) on your own time and money (or at least don’t write it down!).
- Own up to the things you have said/written and not have government money spent writing your apology/excuse when you mess up.
- Consult with your own legal department if there is a question.
I hope my comments are helpful but we need to address a better solution and perhaps emails by government officials/employees on government equipment should be routinely posted (excluding legally exempt items). I really do not want to know about your personal lives or private emails. Just because you are a government official/employee does not mean you cannot have a personal life, communication with other Citizens, friends, neighbors, etc. You need to find a balance somehow or at least demonstrate some judgment.
As the social media has demonstrated repeatedly no matter where, what, and when you put something in electronic media it can be found/discovered eventually. For me I don’t really care anymore. I will apologize when appropriate (new information) but not if I stand by it. Period. What I said/wrote is with the best information I had at the time and me not being a public official/employee you will have to live with that. If you don’t like my written/public opinions give me yours, ignore them, or shut the hell up (I do swear at times). You can always call me privately and I will always listen no matter the sensitivity of the issue. You have known me long enough to know this is true (I have been dubbed the Cactus for good reason and I won’t disagree with that classification).
The political machinations will never stop on any level of government but we need to instill some common sense and ethics in our actions/what our officials put in writing and not limit the public access to valid information regardless the cost.
Thank you for your service to our City.
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