Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category
Town registrars in Massachusetts publish an annual “street list” of local resident names, dates of birth, occupations, veteran status and nationality, which has been a public record. A state Senate bill would change that status, from one of a public record, to one that is only available for federal, state and local governmental use. [Story: Public listings could go private, Matt Murphy, Eagle Boston Bureau]
The common practice of treating search warrants as public records comports with the law, according to an Opinion issued by the Illinois Attorney General. Once the warrants have been returned to the court they are part of the court record and must be available for public inspection.The Sangamon County State’s Attorney backed the Circuit Clerk, who was apparently one of the few court clerks denying the public access to the executed search warrants. As one of this story’s commentators noted, “at some point they have to be made public because it is the public’s dollars which finance them. Making it clear that every search warrant will eventually become public keeps those issuing them honest. We do want judges issuing them and police seeking them kept honest don’t we?”
A Washington State school district narrowly won support from the state Supreme Court in a decision that pitted the Public Records Act against attorney-client privilege for government agencies. Perhaps most damaging to open government, noted in the Justices’ dissent, is the aspect of the ruling allows agencies to seek a judicial determination as to whether a requested public record must be disclosed.
Names of those arrested and detained in an immigration raid must be disclosed, as ordered by the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission. Documents were retained by the state’s Department of Public Safety, which made them subject to disclosure under the Connecticut open records law .
A Florida judge overruled a local school board in determining that the names of all school employees enrolled in the deferred retirement plan must be released under the state’s public records law.
The citizenry and government both come to the wrong conclusions about the ready availability of public records on the Internet. The City of Raleigh, North Carolina and Wake County joined dozens of other communities that have begun integrating crime activity into interactive mapping. Local real estate developers and agents object, believing that “public crime data… will lower housing prices.” Some people are getting acquainted with the meaning of “public records” for the first time through the government Web sites, complaining about an invasion of privacy because others can see their address and name in the Assessor’s records. Alternatively, they embrace access when the records concern people they want to know about, such as sex offenders. Privacy advocates have campaigned to seal criminal records for first-time offenders, which Florida is doing at 3 times the number as 10 years ago, according to this analysis. Even in these cases, law enforcement continues to keep a record of the criminal history.
Public officials sometimes sound defensive when bringing public records into the Internet age, asserting that particular types of personal information isn’t included. Or they remove the documents or data that was once on the Web, as in the case of the El Paso County, Colorado inmate log. The Sheriff has restricted the listing of the criminal charges to classification numbers as a reaction to inmate assaults. If the availability of public records on the Internet isn’t mandated by law, as in the case of the sex offender registries, it’s always subject to being withdrawn.
Agencies could better serve the goal of open government by reducing the number of exemptions to disclosure. The Washington State Attorney General announced a meeting to review the Public Disclosures Act exemptions, which have grown from 10 in 1972 to more than 300 today.
The County Clerk of Oneida County, New York removed land records from its Web site, a promise of her political campaign. Now, she proposes to make document images available online to a handpicked elite, including attorneys (to whom she was speaking when this offer was made), ostensibly because the records are used in the course of their work. You see the basis for redefining the “public” in “public records”, right? Arbitrary. Capricious. Preferential.
Salaries of Delaware state employees who are paid with non public funds are not public records, according to an opinion issued this year by the Delaware Attorney General. Delaware State University solicited the opinion in response to a Freedom of Information request. At the time the AG assessed the University’s accounting system he concluded that it coded employee records to distinguish between employees paid with private money and those receiving payments from public funds. The determination is particularly troubling because the two employees on whom the data was requested are both state legislators.[Reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education.]
Of course, any public agency can follow the example of the North Carolina Columbus County Board of Commissioners and bury a public record in a confidential personnel file, then declare – mistakenly – that it’s not a public record.
Search collections of Washington State and Washington cities employee salary databases at this private Web site. Search statewide or within a city or agency. Data is collected for some sources for as much as 7 years. The site also has other databases and links to Washington State government databases for voters, real property ownership, inmates, court filings, restaurant inspections, recorded documents and newspaper name searches.
This South Dakota newspaper did a round-up of each state’s policy on release of government employee names and their pay, and whether an online searchable database was available. It would be a better reference tool if the site had provided hyperlinks to the state salary databases that are online.
Read prior PI buzz postings on databases and issues related to government employee salaries.
This week in public records: Federal – Washington – Iowa – Wisconsin – California – Tennessee – Pennsylvania
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a ruling that could advance employee rights to privacy protection of their personal email generated at a workplace computer.
In Warshak v. United States, the federal court upheld the finding that e-mail users are entitled to the same expectation of privacy as persons using the telephone.
“Employers should be aware that the Sixth Court did not state that a workplace-monitoring policy will always defeat an employee’s expectation of privacy. If, for example, a company representative with appropriate authority tells an employee that the company will not read his e-mail despite the existence of a policy to the contrary, the employee may be able to argue that he did have a reasonable expectation [of privacy] in his work e-mail,” he cautioned.
“It also is possible that an employee who becomes aware of his employer’s practice not to enforce its right to monitor e-mail may be able to show that he had an expectation of privacy in his e-mail,” Gordon concluded.
For all of these reasons, said Martin Jaron, litigation partner at Holland & Knight and cochair of its electronic discovery team, this decision is just a way station in the broader discussion of privacy rights.
A Washington State Superior Court denied a request for an injunction that would have required a state agency to produce public records in electronic form. Thurston County Judge Christine Pomeroy directed the requester to seek legislative clarification, that electronic copies of records are not currently required to be produced under the Public Disclosure Act.
Inmates in Iowa jails for 23 counties are now on the Vinelink notification service. More counties and the Department of Corrections inmates will be added later this year.
The Wisconsin State Journal is suing a police department for access to police officer employment and disciplinary records. A public records request for copies of complaints brought against a particular officer was denied by the law enforcement agency.
The Oakland, California police department is in the process of updating its public records policies and training procedures. The department is also installing cameras in their patrol cars and, in this article, the records supervisor mentions that these videos will be available under the Public Records Act. Last year, Californians Aware conducted a survey of several hundred California law enforcement agencies to determine their openness to releasing records covered under the Public Records Act. The Oakland Police Department was among the agencies receiving the lowest score.
The sex offender registry for Tennessee has added a mapping program, which will go online July 1, enabling a radius search. Changes in the laws this year will increase the number of offenders required to register, make more names public that have been considered confidential and require all those convicted of a sex crime in the past, regardless of the date, to register by August 1st.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a prison telephone audiotape recording was a public record because it was played in an open court hearing. Even though the recording did not meet the evidence requirements to be submitted at trial it was nevertheless a judicial record.