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July 4, 2019 at 9:37 am #335briannaParticipant
Song Pick: ”Call Me” by Blondie
You know the old saying: If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I wonder: does that statement apply to the State and Local agencies in Washington as it pertains to violations of the State Public Records Act (PRA)?
Apparently not. Under the auspices of my independent investigative journalism, I submitted a public records request to the Town of Starbuck for copies of records which the PRA MANDATES be kept and provided. See RCW 42.56.070(3), (4). After a few weeks, the Town of Starbuck wrote me back, simply stating that they have no records responsive to my request. Nothing else–just that. Ostensibly, one would think that when a governmental agency tells you that it doesn’t have records responsive to your records request, that would be the end of it–we’re supposed to have trust and faith in the agencies which We, the People, have created to serve us, are we not?
But my problem here is this: the PRA mandates that the Town of Starbuck have and keep the records I requested, so by the Town not having the records its supposed to have, then not only are they denying me access to public records (a violation of the PRA itself), but also are separately in violation of the PRA simply by failing to comply with the mandatory provisions thereof. There is no wiggle room for an agency to utilize discretion when the law uses the word “shall,” because by use of that word it makes the underlying act, action, or omission impervious to anything other than what it says ”shall” be done. State ex rel. Nugent v. Lewis, 93 Wn.2d. 80, 82, 605 P.2d 1265 (1980)(the use of the word ”shall” in a statute is mandatory and operates to create a duty). So I brought a civil enforcement action against the Town of Starbuck under the PRA, because they were not in compliance with the law which resulted in my deprivation of access to records.
The Law offices of Menke, Jackson, Beyer, LLP, made their appearance on behalf of the Town, and they immediately filed a motion for Summary Judgment. Attached to their motion was a declaration from the town clerk, explaining that on April 18, they sent me their response to my PRA request which claimed no records responsive, and THEN the Town of Starbuck created the records which were responsive to my request (after they mailed me their response letter claiming no records) and made it effective for April 19. Maybe they didn’t really read my complaint, because I claim that they are mandated under the PRA to have the records I requested. And the law which mandates them to have the records was written, and has been in force since and from, 1972. Strict compliance under the PRA is required, and the courts hold fast to enforcing that strict compliance. Zink v. City of Mesa, 140 Wn.App. 328, 340, 165 P.3d 738 (2007). The clerk’s declaration shows that from 1972 thru April 19, 2017 the Town of Starbuck was in violation of the PRA–for 46 consecutive years–and that only as a result of my request did Starbuck end up getting into compliance.
Government OF the People, BY the People, FOR the People. Here’s a cozy little town way out in the prairie lands of Washington which incorporated in 1905 and runs with the ”big dogs” as a local agency under State Law. Perhaps the Town of Starbuck was so complacent in its operations that they failed to take their duties under the PRA seriously, because before I made my investigation into their compliance with applicable law, the Town of Starbuck had NEVER been in compliance with the PRA. The sword carried by lady justice cuts both ways, and government agencies need to be held accountable to We, the People whom created them to serve Us. I specifically didn’t seek any penalties in this lawsuit, because my intention was not to bankrupt this little po-dunk town in my home state: I brought the suit to obtain the records I requested and to ensure that even the smallest of our governmental agencies tighten up their civic duties enacted to protect our rights. Agencies of our State should follow the mandatory public disclosure laws written by the People, because some People–even a convicted felon–will actually step up to the plate and hold them accountable if they don’t. My lawsuit can be found at Columbia County Superior Court Cause No. 18-2-00089-7.
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