“A major tenet of our system of open government is that elected officials and staff must be unfailing in our duty to conduct public business in the public eye,” emphasized state Rep. Gerry Pollet. “This past year, Attorney General Bob Ferguson has taken a lead in developing legislation creating a training program to make sure elected officials and public employees live by — and live up to — this essential public responsibility.
Pollet is prime-sponsoring Ferguson’s request-legislation that would require training for state and local officials who are subject to the state’s open-government laws in the Public Record Act. Public-records and records-management staff would also be required to complete training, according to terms of the measure.
The Seattle lawmaker backed similar legislation in the 2013 legislative session. Pollet’s House Bill 1198 was approved by the House Government Operations & Elections Committee barely a month and a half into the 2013 session. The bill was stuck in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government & Information Technology, however, when the Legislature adjourned for the year.
Pollet in one of the Democratic and Republican legislators cited and quoted in a Dec. 10, 2013, Ferguson press release — “Ferguson spotlights veterans, consumers, open government and safe communities for 2014 legislative agenda” — that details the attorney general’s request-legislation.
“Attorney General Ferguson has worked hard to develop legislation to provide training for public officials on their fundamental duty to conduct the public’s business in the open,” Pollet said. “His work demonstrates a strong commitment to open and transparent government. It provides simple training needed by public officials to ensure they understand their meetings must be open and their records for conducting public business are public records.
“This bill will also greatly reduce the liability of state and local governments from repeated findings that they did not train their staffs or elected officials in how to respond to a public-records request,” Pollet said. “As another part of this emphasis, I’m co-starting an ‘open-government caucus’ in the Legislature.”
His package of open-government measures in the upcoming 2014 legislative session also includes a measure advocating a constitutional amendment that would prohibit “Nixonian claims of executive privilege.”
Pollet’s “Right-to-Know” amendment would direct — for the first time in state history — that citizens have rights both for open meetings and for access to public records.
Citizens and the press would be guaranteed access to public records from the governor’s office, under his amendment proposal.
Pollet’s amendment idea is a response to the “sweeping state supreme court decision granting the governor ‘executive privilege’ to refuse to disclose public records.” He likened the state high court’s Oct. 17, 2013, decision to the so-called executive privilege claimed 40 years ago by former President Richard Nixon.
“We must establish such protection in law for this fundamental right of the public to know what our state government is doing – and who is influencing our governor,” Pollet said. “The amendment will prevent this wrongful use of executive privilege as a way to avoid disclosure of records. I believe such an amendment is vital to protecting democracy here in our state of Washington.”
Pollet also praised Gov. Jay Inslee for Inslee’s statement that while he’s governor he won’t be claiming executive privilege to deny public review of his public records. (The state supreme court case’s decision involved former Gov. Christine Gregoire’s assertion of executive privilege.)
A board member of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, Pollet has supervised a program training law students in open-government and environmental law.