Records-request abuses need more study

A proposal to let local government agencies decide which public records requests to work on — and which to delay due to staffing limits — is dead for the 2016 session. A state House budget proviso would instead spend $250,000 to hire a third party that can help resolve the controversy around records requests that local governments find troublesome.

The study is a smarter approach than punching new holes in the Public Records Act with House Bill 2576.

We hope the Senate will agree to find the necessary $250,000 during the budget talks underway in special session.

Democratic Rep. Joan McBride of Kirkland has called for the study that will bring local government agencies and advocates of transparency, such as the Washington Coalition for Open Government, together.

The William D. Ruckelshaus Center, which is attached to the state’s research universities, would convene the talks. The center has a good reputation for independent research and bringing diverse interests together in a search for common ground.

Some advocates for small local governments say retaliatory requests eat up precious staff time and resources.

A separate study by the state Auditor’s Office is also underway to determine how much records requests really do cost government. This is due in August.

Toby Nixon, president of the Coalition for Open Government, said egregious cases are few in number. He said cyberstalking and anti-harassment laws might could be used to block those who use records requests as a tool for harassment.

In the end, governments must honor records requests. We see fulfilling public records requests as a basic part of government’s duty to be accountable to the public.