Advocates for open government plan a public education program and forum on the public's right to know Wednesday evening in Olympia.
The Washington Coalition for Open Government is putting on the event, which is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Thurston County and The Olympian. Panelists include former Republican state legislator Toby Nixon of WCOG, Attorney General Rob McKenna, retiring state House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, and Russell Wood, state records manager.
“The main theme is to educate the public on their rights under the open government laws of the state,” said Patience Rogge, public outreach coordinator for the coalition. Rogge also has served on the attorney general’s “Sunshine Committee” that is re-examining the more than 300 exemptions in state disclosure law.
The coalition was founded in 2002 and has been doing its workshops around the state for several years – at least a half-dozen a year, according to Rogge.
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The event comes at a time the U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to block the release of names of signers of a Washington referendum on domestic-partner rights after the 2009 elections. Secretary of State Sam Reed and McKenna argued the signatures should be treated as a public record, but religious activists are continuing their fight in U.S. District Court on grounds that signers could face threats and harassments over their opposition to giving marriage rights to same-sex couples.
A few Thurston County local issues could surface during the session, according to Clydia Cuykendall, president of the local League of Women Voters.
Cuykendall said the league favors open government, but members are divided on how far the law should go. Some think records law is abused by lawyers and reporters, while others think it does not go far enough.
She is encouraging league members to show up and voice their views in the question-and-answer period that is scheduled after the presentations.
Cuykendall said she also serves on a Port of Olympia advisory committee that is reviewing the port’s handling of a recent decision concerning development at the north end of the port peninsula. The port and league also were on opposite sides of a legal fight over public disclosure of the port’s lease with Weyerhaeuser Co.
The state Court of Appeals eventually ruled in favor of disclosure of the lease in a decision that said the port should disclosure the lease negotiation documents once the negotiations were completed, she said. The ruling was precedent setting and clarified the extent of a business-negotiations exemption, Cuykendall said.
“The idea is it’s not fair to the public agency if the public can find out what its negotiations are when it is negotiating with a private party like Weyerhaeuser. In this case it wasn’t until after the lease was signed that the request for the lease records was made,’’ she said.