Open government is an expectation to most folks who live in Washington state. Government at the state and local levels is generally transparent in dealings with the public.
But that just doesn’t happen. It occurs because open government laws have been established through a voter-approved measure and a long line of government officials have made public access to government a priority.
The latest to carry on the tradition is Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who was elected to the post last fall.
This week Ferguson announced he filled the vacant open government ombudsman and made the job a full-time position in the Attorney General’s Office.
Ferguson hired Nancy Kreier, a lawyer for the state Public Disclosure Commission, to replace Tim Ford who did the job — and did it very well — since 2007.
The role of ombudsman has been important. Ford was proactive in reaching out to government officials when concerns were brought to him by citizens (or the media). His intervention quelled disputes before they became heated and expensive to resolve.
The ombudsman also provides a great service to elected officials, particularly local elected officials, who might be unfamiliar with the law. His advice has kept more than a few from inadvertently stepping into trouble.
The ombudsman position ultimately saves the state and local governments money as lawsuits and protracted court battles are avoided.
Ford’s role of ombudsmen had been reduced to part time under former Attorney General Rob McKenna. It wasn’t that McKenna didn’t embrace Ford’s work or the concept. He created the position when he first took office in 2005. The hours were reduced because deep cuts had to be made across state government to balance its budget in the midst of the Great Recession.
When Ford resigned this summer, Ferguson quickly pledged to hire a new ombudsmen and return the position to full-time status.
Ferguson made good on that promise, and it appears he made a good choice. Kreier worked as a reporter before studying law at the University of Washington. She then worked in the Attorney General’s Licensing Division and at the PDC.
Filling this important position will help keep state and local governments open in their dealings with the people.