This is a long post.
Over and over, Olympia City Council members have said they’ve received dozens of complaints from people about "pedestrian interference" downtown.
These complaints, at least the ones recorded in phone messages, written correspondence and/or e-mail or other written form, are public records and are disclosable, as are police reports and court records related to "interference".
Since The Olympian is failing in its civic responsibility to report on all sides of this issue by asking the City for specific information pertaining to the need for this ordinance, someone should. It could be one of the readers of this post.
If you choose to file a records request, please remember that these requests are a way of obtaining information to be disseminated to the public, and should not be used to beat individuals over the head in an attempt to change their minds, however tempting that might be. At their best, journalists such as yourselves are public servants who have a special duty to provide information people can use to make well-reasoned decisions.
So, were I to write a request for records pertaining to this issue, it would go something like this. The wording of the request is below, followed by some additional comments. If you are interested in pursuing this, you can take the request to City Hall, or mail or e-mail it to the City’s public records officer. Information on how to file public records requests may be found on the City’s Web site, www.ci.olympia.wa.us
Request for Public Records
Dear City of Olympia Public Records Officer:
Under the state’s open public records law, RCW 42.56, I request to review the following public records. If these records cannot all be provided for review at once, please provide these records in installments to aid in the timely response to this request.
For the purposes of this request, "public record" includes any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by the City, regardless of physical form or characteristics.
Should you contend that a public record is exempt from disclosure, please specifically identify that record by subject, title, author, custodian and date and specifically state how the specific statutory exemption applies to the record as required by RCW 42.56.210(3). For each record that you believe is partially exempt from public disclosure, please provide a redacted copy or the record, and, again the specific exemption that applies to the redacted section.
Please keep in mind that denying a request because it is "overbroad" is now specifically prohibited by state law and that failure to comply with this request for public records may be subject to judicial review and may require you to pay attorney fees and mandatory penalties under RCW 42.56.550(4)
Please notify me at the number below when the records are ready for review. Should you need clarification of this request, please contact me at the same number.
Some notes for readers of this post:
I suggest that anyone filing a records request ask to review the documents, rather than have them printed. Otherwise you’ll have to pay 10 to 15 cents per page for documents, which can get quite pricey.
The state's public records law (RCW 42.56), which is available on line at http:///apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/ states the City has five days to respond to a public records request, letting you know when it will be filled; if it will not be filled (and why not); or if it will be filled in stages. The City may ask you for a phone number and address so you can be contacted about the request. The City may not ask you for identification, or why you want the records. The latter two tactics often are used to intimidate requestors. They are both illegal. The City may, however, ask you to clarify your request in an attempt to respond to it more quickly.
This records request may be a little bit lengthy, but it is designed to collect information the Council is using in an attempt to show the need for the amendments to the ordinance; how the City determined that they are needed; and if current laws are being enforced. It also is designed to get some idea from the City about how much all of this will cost if it passes.
Once the City notifies you that it has the records, I’d suggest you get a group together to go look at them and compile some numbers that show how many people have contacted Council members or others on City staff for and against the proposed amendments; the thought process behind the drafting of them; the actual numbers of complaints; and what the cost to the City will be to enforce this, should it pass.
If you have any questions about this, please post them in the comment section of this post, and I’ll do my best to answer promptly. If someone decides to file this request, I will be very interested in seeing the City’s response, and would be happy to make recommendations for next steps, should they be needed.
And, if all of this isn’t enough, please keep your eyes out for proposals to make parts of downtown either a historic district, or a theater district, which could allow these amendments to go forward in a different way, should they not get through the Council this time.
It takes guts to make the thoughtful, articulate, passionate and compassionate arguments that were made against this proposal at Tuesday night's Council meeting. Let’s keep the pressure on. The best way to fight back is to be well-informed.
Also, if folks are interested, it is possible to do a public records seminar to more fully explain the rights we have to public information. Just let me know.