County staff gets primer on disclosure laws


Kitsap County Writer

An informal work group comprised of county officials, attorneys and the public met Friday afternoon to discuss and define public documents and how to respond to disclosure requests.

The bottom line, according to meeting chair Cris Gears, is county employees need to know what they should retain and what they can throw away. They should feel comfortable about doing their job and not think they have to keep every scrap of paper, he said.

Interest in the topic has escalated in recent weeks, due to both the permitting procedure surrounding the International Speedway Corp.’s desire to build a Kitsap County racetrack and state Attorney General Rob McKenna’s proactive effort to redefine disclosure laws.

None of the county commissioners attended the meeting. Elected officials attending included Assessor Jim Avery, Auditor Karen Flynn and Clerk Dave Peterson.

Department heads attending included Cindy Baker (Community Development), Ron McAffee (CenCom), Ben Holland (Adminstrative Services) and Bud Harris (Information Technology).

Harris’ department provides the most important function, since the efficient disposition of information requests relies on available technology.

Indianola resident Charlie Burrow, who has submitted numerous requests for county documents regarding the effort to recruit NASCAR — and been critical of the county’s response — advocated a system wherein citizens could log on to all public documents over the Internet without staff involvement.

Burrow recommends placing all county documents on-line and connecting to a Google-like search engine.

“Without needing any assistance from staff, someone sitting at home could get the documents they need,” Burrow said. “If it’s structured and indexed properly, we are all protected.”

While most of what the county produces is available to the public, there are times when information requires filtering in order to not violate the individual’s right to privacy.

One solution would be to select different security levels for each document.

“From a technological standpoint, we can do a lot of this,” Harris said. “But it can take time and money. There are some things of a private nature that shouldn’t be disclosed. So this will work as long as we don’t place private information on-line.”

Gears acknowledged that Friday’s session was more to gather questions, while future meetings will attempt to develop solutions.

For instance, is a party invitation sent around through internal e-mail or posted on a bulletin board become a public document? And if spam leaks through, is it public record that a certain official received a Viagra solicitation?

Any solution will have to address the added effort needed to fulfill an information request. Baker, who said the DCD staff is already stretched thin, said the department can spend hours filling a request, which takes precedence over their job.

There would be no complaining about this, since it is the law. But county employees tend to lose patience when someone requests 1,000 pages and never retrieves the documents.

Burrow feels that technology can help to separate the documents the public needs.

“The most important information is structural things, like legal records, minutes, contracts and procedures,” Burrow said. “It seems like the Web site has less information than it did a few years ago.”

Gears said the workgroup planned to meet several more times before presenting a recommendation to the commissioners.

He said the meetings would be open to the public.

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