When folks are elected to public office — from local school boards to city councils to county commissions — many have little to no experience with state law regarding public access to government information.
When the citizens (and media) seek information inadvertent mistakes are too often made because some elected officials simply don’t understand the who, what, where, when, why and how of the state’s open government laws.
And, as a result, it costs taxpayers a lot to settle lawsuits.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has been pushing for a state law to require open government training for most public officials. Last week, he got it. Legislation was approved by the Legislature.
Ferguson, who was in Walla Walla last week on a trip to Eastern Washington, worked with Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, on the legislation — the “Open Government Trainings Act.”
“Open government is vital to a free and informed society,” Ferguson said in a news release. “This new law will enhance government transparency and ensure that public officials know and understand our state’s public disclosure laws, which were overwhelmingly approved by the voters.”
A 2012 state Auditor’s Office study found more than 250 “open government-related” violations or concerns among local governments. The report found most violations could have been avoided with sufficient training and knowledge.
This legislation, which needs only Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature to become law, calls for training on the Public Records Act and records retention requirements. This law pertains to every level of government — state and local boards, councils and commissions, as well as local taxing districts such as fire and sewer districts.
“Washington’s strong open government laws allow people to remain informed about actions that affect everyone,” said Fain, the GOP lawmaker. “Ensuring officials know exactly what is expected of them will help many different statewide jurisdictions maintain a high level of transparency. More informed government officials will also greatly reduce potential violations, ultimately saving taxpayers money.”
The government, at all levels, is the people’s government. This legislation should result in easier access to information by the people and fewer unnecessary and costly lawsuits.