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City of Seattle
Ed Murray, Mayor
NEWS ADVISORY

SUBJECT: Holmes joins state Sunshine Committee

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
9/21/2010  4:00:00 PM
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Kimberly Mills  (206) 684-8602


Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes is one of two new members of the Public Records Exemption Committee, commonly known as the Sunshine Committee, which reviews exemptions to the Washington Public Records Act.

Gov. Chris Gregoire appointed Holmes and Susan R. Agid, formerly a judge on the Washington Court of Appeals, Division 1, to the committee effective Sept. 10. The governor also reappointed Lynn Kessler, majority leader of the state House of Representatives, and Frank W. Garred, a retired newspaper publisher.

When voters approved the act by initiative in 1972, there were only 10 exemptions. In 2007, when Attorney General Rob McKenna proposed the Sunshine Committee, more than 300 exemptions existed.

Speaking Friday to the Washington Coalition for Open Government, Holmes said, “I believe that open government is good government and I fully intend to use my time on the Sunshine Committee in a serious effort to whittle away at all these exemptions.” He thanked Gregoire for appointing him to the one-year term (replacing former Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr), which ends Aug. 6, 2011.

However, Holmes also told WCOG members at their seminar in Seattle that the Public Records Act is overdue for overhaul. “We need to look a law that’s nearly 40 years old. We should look at it through today’s lens to define what is (and is not) a public record.”

At a time when cities and counties are cutting back law enforcement and social service budgets, Holmes said, “We need to decide what it is that we care about.” He gave as an example a public records request submitted by 13 attorneys who were not reappointed (out of 90) when he took office in January. To date, Holmes’ office has spent 644 hours on the request and is still working on it. “Do you really want disgruntled former employees tying up government resources that way,” he asked.

Holmes also noted instances when requesters do not show up to review records after a significant amount of staff time is spent responding to the request, and the application of the law to current technology, such as the new requirement to produce “metadata” associated with electronic records. The extent of the requirement to produce metadata raises many questions among City staff and potentially requires IT professionals to assist with even the most straightforward records requests, which Holmes said could “overwhelm and paralyze” government. Holmes mentioned one single-page records request directed to every City department that involves the work of 40 public disclosure officers collecting records across Seattle city government. That single request will ultimately involve thousands of City staff hours and the production of several hundred thousand pages of records.

Gregoire letter

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