Via anonymous contributor Publius Publius:
Snohomish County has been the subject of many lawsuits over Public Records.
In nearly all cases they claim to be the injured party, and yet the courts consistently seem to disagree.
Perhaps most notably was a particular set of requests that eventually ended when the County reached an agreement to settle the matter for $575,000, without (of course) admitting and wrongdoing.
The weight of such a check speak many words that a settlement agreement does not.
There have been many more allegations of non-compliance with the Washington Public Records Act than the courts have seen, partly due to the fact that the Prosecutors office puts up a very firm front and takes a defensive posture in response to difficult requests.
In a highly accusatory tone, Everett Herald reporter Scott North and Snohomish County Public Records Deputy Prosecutor Sara Di Vittorio squarely challenge the motives of anonymous PINAC contributor Publius Publicus and his recent request for public records.
So, I made this request…
I was NOT directed to the website when I asked to see the Sheriff’s written policy regarding public records requests. I recorded the entire encounter, and what it shows is Kathryn Olsen, the public records unit supervisor admitting that
her department is grossly underfunded and unable to meet public records requests in a timely manner.
She also admits that the Sheriff’s Department does not have their public records policy “prominently displayed” at their “central office” as required by RCW 42.56.040.
Ms. Di Vittorio also argues that the Sheriff’s Department is not a “Local Agency” as defined by RCW 42.56.010. This is absolutely absurd and in clear contrast to both the plain language of the statute as well as WA Supreme Court holdings regarding the definition.
Any claim that my request was “designed to vex” or “intended to harass” are patently false, as I informed Ms. Di Vitorrio in our phone discussion. I also told her that i had a very valid reason to request all records, and I will share that here.
As a journalist, I was working on a story about certain aspects of the Snohomish County government. I read many things and heard from many people about the blatant non compliance of Snohomish County with Public Disclosure Laws.
Seeking verification of some of the claims made, I visited the Sheriff’s Department and confirmed that they did not have their Public Records policy or other items required by RCW 42.56.040 “prominently displayed” at “the central office thereof”. They did however hang a nice shelf of coloring books.
As citizens of Washington, our government is accountable to us. They owe us a duty to be open in their dealings and affairs. It is only in trade for that openness that we grant them power. To quote the legislature when they enacted the Public Records Act:
“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.”
Wise words indeed.
Where Ms. Di Vitorio really has a problem, is the fact that their non-compliance with RCW 42.56.040 means that the County will bear the entire burden of producing the documents, despite her desire to twist the words of the statute to mean otherwise.
I made every effort and have over 3 hours of video showing my VAST efforts to bring this non compliance to the attention of the County as well as the Sheriff’s Department in the hopes that it would be corrected. I then spent an entire week trying to get ANYONE to take corrective action on the matter.
In my original request I had asked for the “Use of force” reports that are generated whenever the Sheriff’s Department engages in a use of force. I had intended to build a website that would share them all for the world to see, and then make follow up requests on a bi-weekly basis to keep it current and put the Sheriff’s action squarely in public view.
I found both Ms. Oliver as well as Shari Ireton, Director of Communications, to be friendly and approachable and admit that they both seem to possess some great qualities for people in their position. The problem seems to lie in the advice provided and lack of accountability on the Prosecuting Attorny’s office and the admitted underfunding and understaffing by Sheriff Ty Trynary.
When the absolute resistance to compliance with the law through negligence and willful acts reached a certain threshold, I reached out to my connections and found support for putting the ENTIRE quantity of public records belonging to the Sheriff’s Department online for all to see at the click of a mouse, and free of charge.
As an example, if you go to http://snohomishcountywa.gov/documentcenter/view/3763 you will see a list of VERY high prices for mandatory court forms. I plan to do a public records request for each form, and then make them all available online for FREE to people that need them. The county does not own a copyright on them. They are public. If someone wants download them in Word format, fill them out on their computer, and then print them out at home, they should be able to do so.
The government belongs to US. The Public Records belong to US. WE should have full access to them without jumping through ridiculous hoops and facing opposition and unreasonable delays by an underfunded, overworked staff. It is dereliction of duty by the Snohomish County government to fail to comply with the Public Records Act in a manner that fulfills its intent: to create an open window into what is going on behind closed doors for all of us citizens to see.
With that in mind, I, and people I am connected with (none of which were mentioned in this article) desire to create a very good thing: The first truly open and accessible Sheriff’s Department in the state. Consider it a pilot program.
I may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
And Ms. Di Vitorrio, when you are ready to admit the following two items I will be happy to discuss reducing the scope of my request if you have suggestions of categories of documents or writings that may not be necessary to have available on my website.
1. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department is a “Local Agency” as defined by RCW 42.56.010
2. The Sheriff’s Department is REQUIRED by RCW 42.56.040 to physically “prominently display” the items mentioned in that statute somewhere publicly accessible at their central office, and will immediately comply with that requirement.
And now, when certain violations of the PRA are pointed out, the County again has assumed a defensive position.
Worse, certain County employees reached out to a local reporter they knew would see things from their perspective out of a strong desire to benefit his beloved community.
After reading the article, the person that made the request under the name “Publius Publicus” reached out to Mr. North and found that they both valued open government, accountability of public officials and despised wasting tax dollars.
PINAC will follow this story closely as it unfolds. Link to the original Herald article: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20141125/NEWS01/141129456