FW passes public records test

Federal Way is meeting state standards when it comes to rendering requests for public records, according to the Washington State Auditor’s Office.

Federal Way is meeting state standards when it comes to rendering requests for public records, according to the Washington State Auditor’s Office.

The auditor’s office on May 19 released its first-ever open public records practices performance audit report. The audit evaluated the state’s 10 largest cities and counties as well as state agencies receiving the most requests for public information.

Administrations were evaluated on their prompt, cooperative and accurate response to providing records. Of the 30 entities examined, most, including Federal Way, are demonstrating satisfactory customer service, according to the audit.

“The city strives to really be attentive to customers and give them what they want,” city clerk Laura Hathaway said.

Initiative 900, approved in 2005, gave the auditor’s office the authority to conduct performance audits. This audit was performed as a way to evaluate and guide the agencies in how to provide public records, said Mindy Chambers, Washington State Auditor’s Office spokeswoman. The evaluation was a result of citizen feedback.

“We went out and did a lot of outreach with citizens and one of the things they told us is they wanted more information about government, what it was doing,” Chambers said.

The public records requests were submitted to the agencies between November 2006 and March 2008.

The state’s Public Records Act, Washington Attorney General’s model rules on public records practices, and the entities’ peers were used in evaluating and rating the agencies.

Requests roll in:

Federal Way was compared to the cities of Bellevue, Seattle, Everett, Yakima, Spokane Valley, Spokane, Tacoma, Kent and Vancouver. Each city was rated based on 10 records requests. Federal Way received a rating of nine out of 10.

Requests for each city’s sexual harassment policy, 2005 top five highest paid employees, travel policy, travel vouchers, May 2006 cell phone records, vacation records, technology director job description, employee out-of-state travel information, staff awards and recognitions, and employee phone directory were all documented in the audit.

Records were requested in person, electronically, and via certified and standard mail. The requests were coming in from across the state and some were simple, while others were detailed, Hathaway said. The city was not told it was the subject of an audit, but it was easy to guess such, she said.

“Overall, we feel like we did fine,” Hathaway said.

Federal Way’s performance:

Most requests from the city were met in a timely manner, according to the audit.

The city provided information on its sexual harassment policy the same day it was asked for, according to the report. A request by standard mail for a job description of the information technology director position took four days to receive. Two requests took significantly more time than average to be filled, but were responded to within the legal timeframe set in place by the Public Records Act.

Staff and city council travel vouchers from July through December 2006 were received 19 days after the request was made, according to the audit. Out-of-state travel vouchers for the top law enforcement officer for the time period between July 2005 and June 2006 were provided after 35 days, according to the audit.

“That had to do with limited staff resources to go through all those boxes (the records were stored in),” Hathaway said.

Another record, asked for by e-mail, was originally documented as unfilled, but its status was later changed. The request was made by e-mail and the city’s responding e-mail was sent, but never received, Chambers said. The city abided by state law and nothing alarming was found when requesting records from Federal Way, she said.

“There is nothing in here that raises huge red flags,” Chambers said.

Public Records Act:

Federal Way follows the state’s Public Records Act when fielding requests for public information, Hathaway said. Often times people call Hathaway and do not know how to go about gaining access to public records, she said. In these instances, staff will advise the caller that a public records request must be made and the person is told how to complete the task, Hathaway said.

“I don’t like to make people jump through hoops, so to say,” Hathaway said. “We do realize they are the public’s records.”

The auditor’s office suggested the city make its public records request forms available and ready for submittal online, Hathaway said. A public hearing will be held prior to the City Council meeting June 17 at City Hall to explain the audit and gather public comments and suggestions on how the city can better its records request policy, she said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Check it out:

Revised Code of Washington 42.56.520 dictates state and local agencies must either turn over public records, acknowledge receipt of the request and provide a reasonable estimated response time, or provide a written letter as to why the records were withheld within five business days of the query. The agency has the duty of letting the requester know why the information was denied, if the demand is unclear, or if third parties must be notified before the records are released.

To learn more about the Public Records Act and what records are public information, visit the Washington State Legislature Web site at www.leg.wa.gov/legislature.

To learn more about the Washington Attorney General’s Model Rules on Public Disclosure practices, visit the Washington State Office of the Attorney General’s Web site at www.atg.wa.gov.

To learn more about this audit, visit the City’s Web site at www.cityoffederalway.com or attend the June 17 public hearing at City Hall.

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