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Public Records Act Report Emphasizes a Better Way to Resolve Disputes

This week, the William D. Ruckelshaus Center issued to the State Legislature its Situation Assessment of Public Records Requests to Local Governments. In our September 25th post, "Is the Public Records Act Working?," Joe Levan reported on the charge that the Legislature gave to the Ruckelshaus Center to develop recommendations for the future of the Public Records Act (PRA). The Center's report contains few surprises.{C}

The report's findings were based on interviews with 35 representatives of the public, the media, and local and state governments, including our own Bob Meinig on the MRSC staff.  The consensus of the group is that the principles of the PRA are sound and that the vast majority of requests under the PRA are reasonable.  Where individuals differed were on issues around whether the PRA is working, how burdensome the PRA is for local governments, whether the penalties were rewarding enough, and why records are not always provided in a timely manner.

A sampling of the recommendations from the report:
  • Priority: Establish an alternative to the court system to resolve records requests issues.  This alternative should be independent, inexpensive, and swift in its resolution of disputes.
  • Organize, simplify, clarify, and/or reduce the number of exemptions in the PRA.
  • Ensure provision of training opportunities for local governments regarding the PRA, records management best practices, and how to work smoothly with requesters.
  • Post as many records as possible related to essential services on a well-organized agency website.
  • Agencies should allocate a set percentage of number of staff hours to fulfilling requests and budget for this.

It remains to seen how and whether the Legislature will take up the recommendations in the report.  Stay tuned for more debate during the upcoming legislative session.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

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About Tracy Burrows

As MRSC’s Executive Director, Tracy seeks out innovations in local government, tracking trends in management and technology that impact your work. She has over 20 years of local government and non-profit experience, specializing in growth management, transportation, and general city management issues.