Karen Peterson

Karen Peterson: Over-the-top records request meets over-the-top response

It’s easy to agree with Tim Clemans’ goal.

“I want government to be transparent by default," he told KOMO News last week.

Me, too, Tim.

But here’s how he intends to make that happen. Clemans requested nearly every email ever sent by 60 Washington state agencies. Imagine how many documents that must be.

Clemans admits he doesn’t care about what’s in the emails. It’s a busywork exercise he dreamed up.

“What he really wants is for those state agencies to voluntarily post most of their records onto their websites, unless they contain private or confidential information,” the story said.

But first, records clerks must inspect each email to see whether it contains protected information.

Clemans’ tactics dismiss the complexity of making government documents available to the public.

Additionally, his outlandish request provides fodder to the growing list of public agencies that say fulfilling document requests takes too much time away from their other government functions.

They want to set arbitrary — and sometimes narrow — limits on the time and money they spend fulfilling requests.

Clearly, Clemans is misusing the state Public Records Act to make a point.

But the first agency response to his request was equally startling. According to the story, the state Department of Agriculture told Clemans his request would be completed – in 132 years.

That’s a very large, very specific number. So how many emails, did they estimate, were involved? How much time would it take to process each one? How many hours per week would the agency spend on the project?

I called the agency on Friday to ask.

The staff member I was told had handled the request wouldn’t answer my questions. She referred me to the state Attorney General’s Office, whose spokeswoman would say only that her agency was reviewing the request.

State law states that people have a right to see how their government conducts business. It says government agencies must share their records as quickly as possible.

It would help if, as Clemans suggests, agencies proactively posted more information where citizens could find it themselves.

Beyond that, agencies must agree that responding to record requests is just as important as the rest of their duties. We need them to make good-faith, show-your-math estimates of how long the process will take.

But rather than gimmicky requests to prove a point, we also need a good-faith effort by citizens to request only the documents they really need.

NEW FOOD COLUMNS

Starting Wednesday, our Food and Home section will feature three new columns. They focus on eating lighter and healthier, but also cater to those who don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen cooking.

“What struck me was that they all included recipes for things I’d actually make at home — even after a busy day in the newsroom,” said Sue Kidd, our food editor and restaurant critic.

“Joe Yonan, specifically, is one of my favorite food writers because he works just as hard at educating as he does entertaining his readers.”

The columns:



Her most recent cookbook is called “Weeknight Wonders: Delicious Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less.”



His latest book is “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook.”



She’s the author of more than 20 healthy eating cookbooks.

TNT LEGISLATIVE INTERN

University of Washington junior LaVendrick Smith joined our statehouse bureau last month as a legislative intern. He is a member of our team covering the 2015 legislative session, which is to run through April.

While in high school, Smith was editor of his school newspaper and wrote for his hometown paper, The Mukilteo Beacon. He is a reporter for the The Daily at the University of Washington and interned for The Seattle Times.

Smith’s first story was about a legislative proposal for “silver alerts” that would notify the public when an older person with dementia or similar conditions goes missing.

Look for many more Smith bylines in the coming months.

The News Tribune continues to staff one of the biggest bureaus covering the Legislature. For complete legislative coverage, including breaking news alerts sent to your phone or tablet, download our Capital Update app at thenewstribune.com/capital-update-app/. It’s free to TNT subscribers.

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