LETTER: Some Thoughts on Public Records Requests & the City Council

Dear SeaTac City Council,

I just watched the video of the last Council meeting (07/24/12) and of note were Council Member Gregerson’s comments on Public Records Requests (PRR’s). Posting the cost of them I have no problem with, however, this does not address the “why” of the increase in the last few years.

In posting the cost of PRR’s addresses only the symptom of the problem not the actual cause. The actual cause is distrust of local government brought on mostly by the elected officials themselves. In our own City we have found abuse by elected officials of our systems, data, and access to City held records for political purposes (not to mention insulting private Citizens). These abuses could not have been found without PRR’s.

It is ironic that the Council Member who triggered the increase (you recall “lunatic”) is the one who also is being investigated for the abuse, and appears to be the biggest violator is also the one wanting to curb/post the costs. Why am I not surprised? If a public official’s integrity is questioned and indeed shortcomings verified by a PRR, it is logical Citizens may want to look at other elected officials.

What also was left out was the fact that most of the increase was due to information gathering for business entities that needed information for legal purposes in various negotiations with the City. These are necessary and in the course of doing business with our City considering actions BY the City in the past.

Our policies have not caught up with technology. The ability is out there to store, index, and lookup data without manual intervention. What is lacking is the will to do it for fear of embarrassing emails, data, and communications by our government officials/employees (local and up). This is unwarranted and I for one recognize we all make mistakes and without the Public disclosure there is no motivation to not to repeat them.

Even as a private citizen my emails to the City have been requested via PRR and I piggybacked on that request. I have no problem with that and as I was going through memory lane found I was more humorous in some of them that I thought. I don’t put “pen to paper” arbitrarily and with email there is always the danger where you hit the SEND button without thinking it through and it may go to people it was not intended for.

While not a perfect solution I suggest the following:

  • If you are a government official/employee, use email knowing it can be made public.
  • Gossip (unavoidable) on your own time and money (or at least don’t write it down!).
  • Own up to the things you have said/written and not have government money spent writing your apology/excuse when you mess up.
  • Consult with your own legal department if there is a question.

I hope my comments are helpful but we need to address a better solution and perhaps emails by government officials/employees on government equipment should be routinely posted (excluding legally exempt items). I really do not want to know about your personal lives or private emails. Just because you are a government official/employee does not mean you cannot have a personal life, communication with other Citizens, friends, neighbors, etc. You need to find a balance somehow or at least demonstrate some judgment.

As the social media has demonstrated repeatedly no matter where, what, and when you put something in electronic media it can be found/discovered eventually. For me I don’t really care anymore. I will apologize when appropriate (new information) but not if I stand by it. Period. What I said/wrote is with the best information I had at the time and me not being a public official/employee you will have to live with that. If you don’t like my written/public opinions give me yours, ignore them, or shut the hell up (I do swear at times). You can always call me privately and I will always listen no matter the sensitivity of the issue. You have known me long enough to know this is true (I have been dubbed the Cactus for good reason and I won’t disagree with that classification).

The political machinations will never stop on any level of government but we need to instill some common sense and ethics in our actions/what our officials put in writing and not limit the public access to valid information regardless the cost.

Thank you for your service to our City.

Earl Gipson

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3 Responses to “LETTER: Some Thoughts on Public Records Requests & the City Council”
  1. Vicki Lockwood says:

    What a thoughtful and relevant open letter from Mr. Gipson! Thank you for being reasonable and practical. I found it humorous that CM Gregerson suggested the City make the cost of Public Information Requests public. Not because the cost is not significant and not because I do not agree with her … I do agree with her. What was entertaining was that just minutes before her epiphany I had stated that our City does not track the total cost of individual tasks/events/processes. So why would she think that we would know the true cost of these requests? Once again, council members, I beg you to implement the changes necessary so that we do know what various items/activities, etc. cost us.

  2. Dorinda says:

    I would love to know the actual cost of a PRR, even if it is a legitimate “cost” of doing business. It would be interesting to break down the hours spent by employees, the cost of materials, etc.

    I also find it humorous that CM Gregerson suggested that the City make the cost available to the public. Specifically, I would like to know the cost the taxpayers have incurred because of her fraud, waste and abuse of OUR resources. Additionally, perhaps the State would disclose the cost of the Public Disclosure Commission investigation currently underway, with Ms. Gregerson as the star of the show. We might even be able to get a cost analysis from the Office of Civil Rights (Federal) associated with an investigation of her blatant violation of HIPAA laws (those are the laws that protect your health information) by discussing private patient information from her employer’s dental practice using CITY computers, of all things.

    For a Council so hell-bent on spending money, its ironic that they pay attention to costs associated with… oh, wait, I get it… records requests that may continue to “out” their wasteful, fraudulent and downright anti-social behavior.

    • Vicki Lockwood says:

      I’m not sure if you attend our Council Meetings or watch them on video, but the majority of our Council Members have made it very clear that they will decide what is good for us to know. And we’re supposed to be thankful for the propoganda. For instance, it is good for us to know what our neighbors buy at the grocery store, it is good for us to all follow a city-prescribed diet, it is good for us to foot the bill for people who don’t work, it is good for us to provide daycare for people who need a break from parenting responsibilities, it is good for us to provide translators for people who demand our privileges but refuse to learn our language, it is good for us to overpay for menial labor because not all folks are motivated to advance and seek promotions/accept more responsibility/make decisions, etc. to earn higher than minimum wages. But please rest assured, Dorinda, that this same Council Majority listens to our input. How do I know? Because they told us so! Never mind that they continue to reinforce with their words and actions that they are nothing more than “listening pretenders”.