This Shawn Vestal Story in the Spokesman Review prompted me to do this story in order to get more of the truth out.
I have, to an extent, in the past, chronicled how the FOIA/PRR Game is played and demonstrated how government attempts to play hide the ball as the Condon Administration clearly did with the Cotton/Straub Case.
Here are just a few of the stories I have written previously:
Over and over I have stated the importance of “The Media” in government oversight. When “The Media doesn’t do their job we end up with government having little or no fear of being caught. The Spokesman Review was, many years ago, a leader in Public Records Act Litigation and won a number of important Washington State Supreme Court Cases that benefited the public as far as “The Public’s Right to Know!” is concerned. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case and nearly all of the recent WSSC Cases favorable to the public’s right to know were brought by Western Washington Media, or Individuals willing to take it to the highest court in Washington. I should note that the SR could easily join my litigation against the City of Spokane as they too, as the Cappel Report clearly shows, were victims of the Condon Administration’s violations of the Public Records Act. The fact that they haven’t should be very telling to everyone.
Shawn Vestal’s story makes it quite clear that he has very, very limited experience, or knowledge in the realities of how government plays the PRR/FOIA Game, but in fairness to Vestal if you aren’t experienced you just don’t know, nor do you have an understanding of how the game is actually played.
Shawn Vestal, is right in this statement he made:
“Brace yourself for the wave of complaints from government officials telling you that’s too much – complaints that are likely to find their way into legislative proposals to restrict public access to government information. This would be a lousy and undemocratic direction, but there is nothing surprising in it: among the most predictable results of public accountability for governments are rote complaints about the hardships of providing public accountability.”
“It’s just such a burden.”
However, what Shawn fails to point out is the case law which did away with the previous ploy used by government to make Public Records Requests cost prohibitive for individuals. organizations, and media not willing to spend the money.
I always have a bit of a laugh when I read PRRs submitted by other media. The last line of the Nick Deshais Cotton/Straub PRR is somewhat telling.
Another thing Shawn fails to point out is that Mayor Condon, even before, the Cappel Investigation was underway, laid the groundwork for his easily predictable defense.
Which in a nutshell is; “Not enough staff!”, “Overwhelming number of requests!”, “Lack of good database programs!”, “We made some mistakes!”…etcetera, etcetera. Which of course is “baloney”, for lack of a better term.
It is my understanding from sources that Shawn Vestal does read my blog, but IMO he should pay a little closer attention because had he read this story prior to doing his “Prepare for complaints about the cost of providing public records” he would have known that this new law backed by Law Enforcement, as well as Cities and Counties shows exactly where they want the Public Records Request Issue to go.
As I pointed out in my story above, this was an important story regarding Public Records Requests that the SR would not take on. Vestal’s column provided the perfect opportunity to do so but he passed.
In reading Shawn’s column, IMO some readers might have been left with the impression that the State Auditor’s Office conducted an “Audit” so I want to clear that up in this story to make it perfectly clear this was NOT an “Audit”, and as Shawn points out it was merely “A Survey”.
Auditors surveyed a wide range of governments, from cities to universities to state agencies. Respondents received 285,000 requests for records in the previous year, totaling more than $60 million in costs.
When I look at “Reports”, “Audits”, “Surveys”, etcetera, like this one, the first thing I do is look at who requested them which often helps to establish the possible motivation. In the case of the “Survey” Shawn refers to in his column it was the Washington State Legislature who made the request.
Certainly the Washington State Legislature has a very vested interest in the outcome of the “Survey”, as do Cities, Counties, and Law Enforcement who spend a ton of money to lobby the legislature.
The second thing I look at is the Methodology employed. This of course was simply a “Survey” with all the data collected provided by all the government agencies with a stake in the game, so the collected data can be very, very questionable.
Once I have established those facts only then do I analyze what the thing actually reports or doesn’t report. You certainly can draw your own conclusions. But it is also important to understand that even if the Legislature, Cities, Counties, and Law Enforcement do get their way as far as new legislation is concerned the ultimate decider will be the Washington State Supreme Court, who up to this point have sided with “The Public’s Right to Know!”.
As most of my readers know I get lots of input from folks concerned about the lack government and law enforcement oversight in Spokane some of whom take it upon themselves to seek out the truth. Here is part of a PRR request made by a private citizen looking into undercover officers at the Meidl Shows, which in my opinion is a very, very pertinent PRR for a number of reasons. Good on you Sir!!!
From: Farnsworth, Laurie <email@example.com> Sent: Thursday, September 1, 2016 4:13 PM To:‘ Cc: Pfister, Terri; McGee, Adi Subject: Follow Up on ___________Public Records Request Dated August 18, 2016 – Wednesday Forum (yesterday)
This is to follow up my August 25 email to you regarding the status of your August 18, 2016, public records request. This is to also acknowledge your subsequent email below of August 25, expanding your request.
As I advised previously, your request has been forwarded to relevant City staff for review and compiling of any responsive documents. As a portion of your request states, “I request to view every document electronic or otherwise regarding the City Council use/request/discussion of undercover Spokane Police Department officers,” your request was also forwarded to staff in the City’s IT Department, who performed a search of the City’s Enterprise Vault System (email storage system) for emails using the following search criteria:
Time Frame: 8/1/2016 – 8/18/2016
Emails between any of the following:
Keywords: “chief” OR “forum”
Approximately 850 hits were returned on this search. I anticipate that for an email review of this size, and taking into consideration other pending email review-related records requests that pre-date yours, that 45 days, or until October 17, will be needed to conclude the review and your request.
You are welcome to modify the above-referenced search parameters. Please advise within one week, or by September 8, if the above search is satisfactory to you and if not, provide modified search terms under which a new search for emails can be performed. We would then advise you of the new results and any change in the estimated time frame needed for the search and to conclude your request. If no clarification in this regard is received from you by September 8, we will proceed with the review of the approximately 850 emails, in addition to the search for responsive non-email records, if any.
I will follow up with you on or about October 17 to update you regarding the status of your request. If additional time will be needed to conclude it, I will advise accordingly. Likewise, if responsive documents become available sooner, I will let you know.
Spokane Deputy City Clerki
Laurie A. Farnsworth | City of Spokane | Deputy City Clerk
808 W. Spokane Falls Boulevard, Spokane, WA 99201-3342
509.625.6319 | fax 509.625.6217 | firstname.lastname@example.org
*** “Clerki” Yup, that is what it said… not me!
The truth is… if the Legislature, Cities, Counties, and Law Enforcement get their way most people will be reluctant to even begin the PRR Process.
I REPORT YOU DECIDE!!!!