In our opinion: Public record
August 16, 2012 · Updated 1:43 PM
It would behoove local governments to properly train their poorly trained employees tasked as liaisons to the public's access to records and meetings. The public's access is not a whimsical or personal decision to make. If not for the sake of the best public access possible then train them because it's inevitable a judge will order it.
As current behavior shows, sooner or later, Port Orchard, Bremerton, Central Kitsap District or Kitsap County will be found in violation of state access laws because they often fail the standards, they expose themselves to suits. Along with clear violations, we've seen public meetings moved, canceled and held at the most ridiculous places and times. While not illegal, the maneuvers are not public access friendly.
Specifically, we've recently seen the director of communications from the Central Kitsap School District force a reporter (that didn't know better) to shut off a recorder during a contentious school board meeting that outed leadership issues during a budget crisis. The spokesman later defended his poor action by saying he thought the reporter would have had to seek the permission of "everyone in the room" in order to record. Had he been trained, the spokesperson would have known better than violate public meetings law as he did.
This week, the Port Orchard Police asked a reporter for an ID before granting access to the daily incident report and arrest logs, which are public records free of ID requirements. Both the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office and the City of Port Orchard recently threatened to change their public information and records access policies in retaliation for stories we printed that they did not like. In PO's case, the mayor sought to have a special citywide protocol for information request from the Port Orchard Independent only. Other media outlets would have seen no change. Both agencies backed off after rethinking their approach.
On Aug. 3, the Bremerton Police "reopened" a closed investigation into the embezzlement from the now bankrupt American Legion Post 68 following a records request from a reporter working with our sister publication Veterans Life. The department's spokesperson admitted that the investigation was reopened in response to our request (not a listed exemption) and then denied access to the file saying it was under investigation.
After 10 days of wrangling and arguing about records access laws in which we sought legal advice that left us divided on the question to sue or not to sue, the city delivered the records.
Proper training now will save governments and agencies time and money down the road during these tough budget years. Proper training now will better serve the public for whom those governments and agencies work.