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Wa State Performance Audit Report Concerning Public Records Request 5 19 08

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Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices
at 30 Government Entities
Report No. 1000011

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A

OR OF ST

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V 11 , 1 8 8 9

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N

IT

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AT

AUD

May 19, 2008

INGT

O

Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag, CGFM
www.sao.wa.gov

A letter from State Auditor Brian
Appendix
Sonntag
B

We also would like to congratulate entities that
demonstrated that top-notch customer service in
responding to requests.
We also appreciate the responses of other entities
that plan to use this report as a road map to improve
operations. In my mind, that is the best outcome an
audit can produce.

Mission Statement
The State Auditor’s Office independently serves the
citizens of Washington by promoting accountability,
fiscal integrity and openness in state and local
government. Working with these governments and with
citizens, we strive to ensure the efficient and effective use
of public resources.

NO

V 11 , 1 8 8 9

SH

N

A

OR OF ST
E
AT

Brian Sonntag, CGFM
Washington State Auditor

We undertook this audit as a response to citizens, and
with the aim of finding out what leads to successful
responses to public records requests. As you will see in
the audit report, tone at the top and a commitment to
good customer service are big factors in that success.
We make many other constructive suggestions as well.

IT

W

This report contains the results of our audit of 30
government agencies’ performance in responding to
public records requests. This audit measures the state’s,
cities’ and counties’ commitment to open government.
Open government is essential to accountability and
transparency.

AUD

To the Citizens of Washington:

INGT

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Objective
Appendix
and scope
B
Objective
This performance audit was designed to answer the following question:
How effective were 10 selected cities, 10 selected counties and 10 selected
state agencies at responding to 10 public records requests in a prompt and
cooperative manner?
We measured entities’ performance against the following benchmarks and best
practices:
•	 The Public Records Act.
•	 The Washington Attorney General’s model rules on public records practices.
•	 The audited entities’ performance compared to their peers.
In addition, I-900 requires the State Auditor’s Office to address the following
elements:
1.	 Identification of cost savings.
2.	 Identification of services that can be reduced or eliminated.
3.	 Identification of programs or services that can be transferred to the private
sector.
4.	 Analysis of gaps or overlaps in programs or services and recommendations
to correct them.
5.	 Feasibility of pooling the entity’s information technology systems.
6.	 Analysis of the roles and functions of the entity and recommendations to
change or eliminate roles or functions.
7.	 Recommendations for statutory or regulatory changes that may be necessary
for the entity to properly carry out its functions.
8.	 Analysis of the entity’s performance data, performance measures and selfassessment systems.
9.	 Identification of best practices.

Scope
We conducted the work from November 2006 through March 2008 in accordance
with Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards prescribed by the U.S.
Government Accountability Office. The audited agencies were:

Cities

Counties

State Agencies

Bellevue

Benton

Department of Corrections

Everett

Clark

Department of General Administration

Federal Way

King

Department of Labor and Industries

Kent

Kitsap

Department of Social and Health
Services

Seattle

Pierce

Department of Revenue

Spokane

Snohomish

Office of Financial Management

Spokane Valley

Spokane

Office of Insurance Commissioner

Tacoma

Thurston

State Investment Board

Vancouver

Whatcom

Washington State Lottery

Yakima

Yakima

Washington State Patrol

We provided a copy of this
performance audit report to:
•	 The audited entities
•	 City councils
•	 County councils
•	 Boards of County
Commissioners
•	 State Legislature

1

Our audit authority
The complete text of
Initiative 900 is available
at www.sao.wa.gov/
PerformanceAudit/
PDFDocuments/i900.
pdf.

W

ashington voters approved Initiative 900 in November 2005, giving the
State Auditor’s Office the authority to conduct independent performance
audits of state and local government entities on behalf of citizens to promote
accountability and cost-effective uses of public resources.
The State Auditor’s Office conducted this performance audit in accordance with
Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards. Those standards require
that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence that
provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit
objectives. We believe that the evidence we obtained provides a reasonable basis
for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

After the performance audit

T

he release of this audit report triggers a series of actions by the Legislature
and the legislative bodies of the cities and counties included in the audit. The
following actions must occur in accordance with Initiative 900:

Visit www.
sao.wa.gov/
PerformanceAudit/
audit_reports.htm
for:
•	 Full report
•	 Audited agencies’
responses, action
plans
•	 Notices of public
hearings
•	 Archives of past
public hearings

State government agencies
•	 The Legislature must hold at least one public hearing within 30 days of this
report’s publication to consider the audit findings and receive public testimony.
•	 The findings and recommendations contained in this report must be considered
during the appropriations process.
•	 The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee will issue a report by July
1 each year detailing the Legislature’s progress in responding to the State
Auditor’s recommendations. The report must justify any recommendations the
Legislature did not respond to and detail additional corrective measures taken.

Local government entities
Within 30 days of this report’s issue, the legislative bodies for the cities and
counties in this report must hold at least one public hearing to consider the findings
of the audit and to receive comments from the public.
The corresponding legislative body must consider this report in connection with
its spending practices. An report must be submitted by the legislative body by
July 1 each year detailing the status of the legislative implementation of the State
Auditor’s recommendations. Justification must be provided for recommendations
not implemented. Details of other corrective action must be provided as well.
The state Legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) will:
•	 Summarize any statewide issues that require action from JLARC.
•	 Notify the appropriate fiscal and policy committees of public hearing agendas.

Follow-up performance audits

2

Follow-up performance audits on any state and local government entity may be
conducted when determined necessary by the State Auditor. Initiative 900 requires
state and local governments to provide justification for recommendations not
followed. Those justifications may be subject to follow-up performance audits.

Why did we conduct this audit?

L

istening to citizens is a cornerstone of the State
Auditor’s Office performance audit program. In the
spring of 2006, we sought thoughts and ideas from
citizens about the direction of the new program. We
conducted another round of citizen outreach in the fall of
2007. In all, we have engaged more than 1,000 citizens in
our outreach efforts.
At each outreach forum, citizens have ranked
government accountability as their most important
measure of government performance, followed by
efficiency and effectiveness. Random samples of
registered voters around the state consistently echo that
ranking.
In discussions at our outreach engagements, citizens
expressed frustration that they can’t know whether
government is accountable without openness, which many
feel is generally lacking at all levels of government, from

cities to counties to state agencies.
The results of our citizen outreach – the things citizens
tell us they want to know about government – factor into
each and every performance audit we undertake. Access
to public records is a fundamental right of every citizen,
regardless of whether that citizen is an “average” citizen
or an elected official, a retiree, a business owner, or a
student. Conversely, providing access to public records
is a fundamental obligation of government entities, from
the smallest special-purpose district to the largest state
agency to private-public partnerships, such as public
development authorities.
The State Auditor’s Office chose this audit based on all of
those factors. We chose this performance audit because
it is a basic measure of government accountability and
transparency.

Audit results
Overarching Conclusion

Overarching Recommendations

Our audit work revealed that, by and large, most
of the 30 entities we audited are providing good
customer service in responding to public records
requests. We tested the entities’ performance by
submitting 10 public records requests to each entity
like a citizen would and identified some trouble
spots in which entities need training on the Public
Records Act; have problems tracking requests; or
are unable to receive them due to e-mail filters or
other issues with their mail systems.

We developed the following overarching
recommendations:
•	 We recommend that entities institute as many
elements as possible from the best practices
in this report and the Washington Attorney
General’s model rules regarding paper and
electronic records.
•	 The Washington Attorney General’s Office
should create standard, formal training
curriculum, which may or may not include
a credential, for all public records officers
in the state based on the model rules. The
Washington Legislature should provide funding
to the Attorney General’s Office to establish
and maintain this training curriculum. The State
and each local government will be responsible
for arranging the training for its public records
officer(s) and ensuring new public records
officers receive the training.
•	 We recommend entities consider tracking costs
associated with responding to requests as a
tool that management can use to determine
appropriate levels of staffing and resources.

We identified best practices that the audited
entities should consider in order to improve their
performance. Those best practices are contained in
this report on page 33 and are:
•	 The Washington Public Records Act
•	 The Washington Attorney General’s model rules
for paper and electronic records.
•	 Entities’ performance
Our overarching conclusion is that most of the
selected entities responded cooperatively and in a
timely manner to our public records requests.

3

Findings and Recommendations
Audit Findings

Audit Recommendations

1.	 Thirty-one of 300
unannounced public records
requests (10 percent) were
considered nonresponsive.
An additional seven
responses (2 percent) were
either nonconforming or
incomplete.

We recommend that entities follow the Attorney General’s model rules and the
best practices identified in this report to the fullest extent possible, particularly
in regard to the following:
•	 Establish and follow processes to ensure that all requests are received.
•	 Evaluate processes and controls around incoming mail to ensure records
requests are found and properly routed.
•	 Refrain from redirecting requestors to another department within the same
entity or requiring requestors to initiate a “new” request within the same
entity.
•	 Avoid the use of e-mail filters that result in the entity rejecting or overlooking
public records requests. See related Finding No. 2.
•	 Review responses and communicate with requestors to ensure the records
to be provided are consistent with the request.

2.	 Some entities do not
accommodate a variety of
public records requests and
therefore do not provide
the public with the fullest
assistance.

We recommend that entities:
•	 Establish policies that are consistent with the Public Records Act, using the
Attorney General’s model rules as a guide.
•	 Conduct broad staff training on the Public Records Act
•	 Accommodate as many modes of requesting public records as is practically
possible.
•	 Select and set e-mail filters at a level that will not block public records
requests.
•	 Consider receiving records requests online.
•	 Develop a policy that clearly outlines how public records requests can be
accepted and make that policy readily available to the public.

3.	 Some entities did not provide
complete and satisfactory
explanations for redactions
of public records and some
records were improperly
redacted.

We recommend that entities:
•	 Provide comprehensive training and resource materials on legal exemptions
to staff who respond to records requests.
•	 Describe the specific exemption that applies to each redaction when the
records are provided to requestors.
•	 Inform requestors about their rights to appeal the entity’s denial of all or part of
their records request and the process available to them to appeal the denial.
•	 Seek guidance when determining whether redactions are legal.

4.	 Some entities provided the
requested public records in a
less timely manner than their
peers.

We recommend entities review their public records requests processes to
identify and eliminate those elements that may delay providing records.
Specifically, we recommend entities:
•	 Prioritize incoming records requests to identify those that require review
and/or redaction versus more straightforward requests that can be fulfilled
more quickly.
•	 Use e-mail to respond to public records requests whenever possible.
•	 Explore opportunities for providing records electronically.
•	 Provide training for staff on processing public records requests.
•	 Provide cross-training to other staff to prepare them for acknowledging and
responding to requests.
•	 Provide records in installments.
•	 Consider waiving copying charges for small records requests.
•	 Engage in ongoing communication with the requestor about priorities and
timelines when a request is identified that may take some time to fill.

4

Cost Savings

A

lthough we identified opportunities for cost savings,
we did not calculate cost savings that results
from avoiding litigation. Our specific recommendations
to achieve potential cost savings in processing public
records requests are:
•	 Re-evaluate existing policies or practices that
may prohibit providing records to requestors
electronically.
•	 Reassess policies regarding archiving and retrieving
electronic public records.
•	 Compare internal policies with the Washington

Attorney General’s Office model rules on public
records to identify opportunities for more efficient
and effective responses to records requests.
•	 Consider redaction capabilities when evaluating or
developing new software applications and systems.
•	 Re-evaluate policies on copying charges. Identify
instances in which the entity can recover copying
costs and instances in which waiving a copying
charge may be more cost-effective.
•	 Provide large public records requests in
installments.

Initiative 900 Cross-Reference
The following table shows where each of the nine elements outlined in Initiative 900 is addressed in this report.
Initiative 900 Elements
1. Identification of cost savings.

Finding 1

Finding 2

‡

‡

Finding 3 Finding 4
‡

2. Identification of services that can be reduced or eliminated.
3. Identification of programs or services that can be transferred to
the private sector.

4. Analysis of gaps or overlaps in programs or services and
recommendations to correct gaps or overlaps.
5. Feasibility of pooling information technology systems.

‡
√

Disclosure of records is a responsibility of all
government agencies. The Act was established under
public initiative and written into state law; therefore
the responsibilities set forth cannot be deferred to an
outside third-party.
√

√

This element was examined and no clear and
convincing advantage was observed in the application
of information technology systems in monitoring
public records requests, as the function of response
is driven by an individual taking responsibility for
a request to ensure it is responded to in a timely
manner.

6. Analysis of the roles and functions at the entities and
recommendations to change or eliminate roles or functions.

√

7. Recommendations for statutory or regulatory changes that may
be necessary for the entities to properly carry out its functions.

√

√

8. Analysis of the entities’ performance data, performance
measures and self-assessment systems.

√

√

9. Identification of best practices.

Outlined after Finding 4, before Appendices.

Notes:
√ This finding was relevant to the I-900 element.
‡ Cost savings are likely associated with this finding but are impossible to estimate.

5

Contacts
Washington State Auditor			
Brian Sonntag, CGFM				
	
Director of Performance Audit		
Linda Long, CPA, CGFM, CGAP		

sonntagb@sao.wa.gov		

(360) 902-0360

longl@sao.wa.gov		

(360) 902-0367

Deputy Director of Performance Audit
Chris Cortines, CPA				
cortinec@sao.wa.gov		

(360) 725-5570

Director of Communications			
Mindy Chambers					
chamberm@sao.wa.gov	

(360) 902-0091

Performance Audit Communications
Kara Klotz						

klotzk@sao.wa.gov		

(360) 725-5569

Public Records Officer
Mary Leider					

leiderm@sao.wa.gov		

(360) 725-5617

Main phone number									

(360) 902-0370

Toll-free hotline for reporting government waste, efficiency	

(866) 902-3900

To receive electronic notification
of audit reports, visit:
https://www.sao.wa.gov/applications/
subscriptionservices/

Americans with Disabilities

Photo by Genevieve O’Sullivan

6

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,
this document will be made available in alternate formats.
Please call (360) 902-0370 for more information.

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Table of Contents
About the public records act....................................................................................... 1
About the Audit................................................................................................................ 4
Audit results....................................................................................................................... 8
Finding 1............................................................................................................................10
Finding 2............................................................................................................................16
Finding 3............................................................................................................................19
Finding 4............................................................................................................................23
Best practices identified during the audit.............................................................33
Appendix A – Results by County and Responses...............................................43
Appendix B – Results by City and Responses.......................................................80
Appendix C – Results by State Agency and Responses................................. 116
Appendix D – Summary Observations from Entity Interviews................... 141
Appendix E – Sources of information about the Public Records Act....... 145
Appendix F – Tips for Obtaining Public Records.............................................. 146
Appendix G – Communications from the Governor on the Public Records
Act..................................................................................................................................... 147
Appendix H – Recent Developments in Public Records Management... 150
Appendix I – Sample public records request.................................................... 151
Appendix J – Overall Results................................................................................... 152
Appendix K - Criteria.................................................................................................. 165

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About the public records act
In 1972, Washington voters approved Initiative 276, requiring that most records
maintained by state, county and city governments be available to members of the
public. The original citizens initiative contained 10 exemptions to public records
disclosure. Since 1972, more than 300 exemptions have been added. Furthermore,
many court decisions have affected the application of state laws on disclosure.
Public disclosure laws are found in chapter 42.56 in the Revised Code of Washington
and are now referred to as the “Public Records Act.” The 2007 Legislature created
the Sunshine Committee, to review exemptions to the public records act annually and
to recommend exemptions to repeal or amend.
In 2005, the Legislature directed the State Attorney General to adopt advisory
public records model rules for state and local agencies. As noted in the model
rules, “The overall goal of the model rules is to establish a culture of compliance
among agencies and a culture of cooperation among requestors by standardizing
best practices throughout the state.” These model rules are now published in
the Washington Administrative Code, Chapter 44-14. In June 2007, the Attorney
General’s Office amended its model rules to provide guidance related to electronic
records. The model rules focus primarily upon disclosure procedures; however, the
rules provide guidance regarding some specific disclosure exemptions, such as the
right to privacy, attorney-client privilege and the deliberative process exemption. The
model rules, along with the public records act, were used to develop expectations of
processes state and local governments should have in place. A complete copy of the
Attorney General’s model rules can be found at the Attorney General of the State of
Washington’s Web site: http://www.atg.wa.gov/page.aspx?id=11668
The following summarizes the key elements found in the Washington’s Public Records
Act. Much of the information presented below is from the Attorney General’s Office’s
“Open Government Internet Deskbook.” Those key elements are summarized as
follows:
•	 The Public Records Act (Act) is to be interpreted in favor of disclosure. The
citizens of the state have the right to know almost all the details of how state and
local governments are run.
•	 What is a Public Record? The definition of a public record is found in RCW
42.56.010(2) in part:
“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 any state or local agency regardless of
physical form or characteristics.”
Public records can be found in a variety of forms. Public records are more than
text on paper, but include maps, photographs, and publications as well. Public
records also include their electronic equivalents including word processing files,
spreadsheets, databases, graphics and video and sound recordings.
•	 What is an “agency” subject to the Act? Beyond state agencies, the Act applies
equally to “every county, city, town, municipal corporation, quasi-municipal
corporation, or special purpose district” or “any office, department, division,
1

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

bureau, board, commission, or agency thereof, or other local public agency.”
•	 Records retention duties of agencies: State law requires agencies to adopt
and enforce reasonable rules to protect public records from damage or
disorganization and to retain records utilizing the State Archivist’s records
retention schedule. Additionally, agencies should have in place reasonable
practices which allow them to promptly locate and produce requested documents
if they are reasonably identified.
Procedures to make a request:
•	 Records requests should be acknowledged and accepted in a variety of forms.
Those forms may include: in-person, telephone, e-mail, fax, and standard or
certified mail.
•	 Requestors are not required to provide a reason for their request. Agencies are
allowed to ask questions to help identify the specific record(s) being requested.
•	 Records requests for lists of individuals for commercial purposes are not
permitted.
•	 Indexes of an agency’s records must be made available to the public
•	 Only “identifiable records” must be provided. Agencies are not required to create
records in response to a request.
Agency responsibilities under the Act:
Agencies must provide the fullest assistance to inquirers and the most timely possible
action on requests for information. Some specific requirements are:
•	 Agencies must have a public records officer.
•	 Agencies must make documents available, either for inspection or as copies.
•	 Agencies must make their facilities available for copying.
•	 Agencies must establish times for inspection and copying.
•	 Agencies may charge for copies of records provided to cover their copying costs.
•	 Agencies must provide prompt written responses.
•	 Agencies must delete or redact portions of records exempt under the state law
and disclose the rest of the document.
•	 Agencies and their employees have no liability to third parties for “good faith”
responses where an exempt portion of a record is inadvertently disclosed. This
exemption does not apply to an agency’s failure to disclose information.

Costs of Noncompliance
Untimely and Unresponsive to Public Records Requests
In recent years, court cases in which state agencies and local governments have
been assessed fines and penalties have been specifically related to the entities’
improperly withholding public records and/or delaying release of the records. We did
not identify litigation that was based on entities’ practices other than improper denials
or excessive delays. In addition to penalties, attorneys’ fees, and costs awarded by
the court, the entity also bears it own legal costs of the litigation. Accordingly, minor
court awards can be expensive if the legal costs associated with the litigation are
considered as well. Examples of recent lawsuits include:
•	 The Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit for $65,000 in late 2007. A
Tacoma man made public records requests at 10 government agencies for
information about employee health insurance coverage. The Department said
it could not electronically redact the requested records and offered to provide
paper copies at a cost of $8,900. A Thurston County judge ruled in this case
that the Public Records Act does not require agencies to provide records in
2

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

an electronic format. However, the agency ultimately provided the records
electronically to the requestor.
•	 The Department of Corrections settled another public records lawsuit earlier in
2007 for $541,000. Prison Legal News, a watchdog newspaper, requested
records in 2000 and disagreed with DOC regarding the documents withheld and
the time it took to provide the records requested. The Thurston County Superior
Court order supported the position of the Department and, on appeal, that
decision was supported by the Washington Court of Appeals. After a favorable
decision from the two lower courts, the Supreme Court reversed their decisions
and ordered the documents to be released. DOC was ordered to pay statutory
penalties, attorney fees and costs incurred over the 7 years it took for the
case to pass through the appellate process. The case involved issues over
exemptions in the Public Records Act.
•	 In 2006, the City of Spokane settled a case for $299,000 involving its refusal to
release public records regarding financing of a parking garage. At the time, it was
thought to be the largest public records-related settlement in the history of the
1972 Public Records Act.
•	 A state Court of Appeals judge in 2007 fined the King County Executive
$123,000 for failing to comply with the state’s Public Disclosure Act. A Seattle
businessman took a case to court in 2000 after the Executive’s office failed to
respond to a 1997 public records request for documents regarding the public
financing of Qwest Field. A King County Superior Court judge originally fined the
Executive $5 per day for each day it failed to produce the requested records. The
Act allows up to $100 per day. The case was still being resolved at the time of
the audit.
In addition to the financial expense of being involved in a legal dispute involving public
records, failing to respond properly to public records requests can erode the public’s
overall trust and regard for the entity and government in general.

Recent Developments in Public Records Management
Challenges of Records Management in the Electronic Age
In recent years, the number of electronic records that are created and stored
electronically and are not preserved in a paper form has grown significantly. A study
published in 2004 by the University of California Berkeley found that the amount of
new information had roughly doubled in prior three years. About 93 percent of that
information was created and stored electronically.
This has affected the way government does business. Consequently, records are
becoming more difficult to manage. In fact this was one of the most prominent
concerns voiced by the entities in our interviews. One area consistently mentioned is
the desire of the entities to improve storage and access to electronic records.
Managing e-mail is a challenge. E-mail messages should be handled the same as any
other public records.

3

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About the Audit
Objective
This performance audit was designed to answer the following question:
How effective were 10 selected cities, 10 selected counties and 10 selected state
agencies at responding to 10 public records requests in a prompt and cooperative
manner?
Our audit objective was to evaluate performance of the selected entities in
responding to public records requests. The Public Records Act and the Washington
Attorney General’s model rules on public records practices provided benchmarks and
best practices for our evaluations of entities’ performance.
During our audit planning and throughout the audit, we identified a number studies
and audits of the public records processes conducted throughout the United
States in recent years. Additionally, we identified a number of significant lawsuits
involving public records requests in our state. We also identified internet sites of
organizations and blogs dedicated to government accountability and transparency as
well as newspaper articles and editorials concerning public records requests. This
information assisted us in developing our audit objectives, criteria, methodology and
assisted in our analysis of the audit evidence gathered and conclusions reached.

Scope
We conducted our work from November 2006 through March 2008 in accordance
with generally accepted government auditing standards.
The audit evaluated the operational performance of the following 30 entities:
		

Counties

Cities

State Agencies

King

Seattle

Department of Revenue

Pierce

Spokane

Office of Insurance Commissioner

Snohomish

Tacoma

Department of Social and Health Services

Spokane

Vancouver

Department of Labor and Industries

Clark

Bellevue

Washington State Patrol

Kitsap

Everett

Department of General Administration

Yakima

Spokane Valley

Department of Corrections

Thurston

Federal Way

Washington State Lottery

Whatcom

Kent

Office of Financial Management

Benton

Yakima

Washington State Investment Board

We provided a draft of this report to the 30 entities for their review and comments,
which are in Appendices A (Counties), B (Cities) and C (State agencies).
The State Auditor’s Office conducted this performance audit in accordance with
Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards, prescribed by the U.S.
Government Accountability Office. Those standards require that we plan and perform
the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence that provides a reasonable basis
for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. The scope of our
4

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

audit was limited to an analysis of results of our unannounced public records requests
and interviews with Public Records Officers. Our audit procedures did not extend to
verifying and evaluating the design or effectiveness of the entities’ internal controls
over its public records request processes. We believe the evidence we obtained
provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit
objectives.

Methodology
To address the objectives, we submitted 10 unannounced requests at the 30 entities
using a variety of methods. Some of the requestors were Auditor’s Office staff who
did not identify themselves as such, others were not employees of the Auditor’s
Office. We believe that had the requests been identified as coming from the State
Auditor’s Office, the results would not reliably portray entities’ responsiveness to
citizens. Furthermore, unannounced procedures are a standard methodology under
professional auditing standards. Since most public records requests are received in
writing, we made our requests in the following manner:
•	 Eight requests at each entity were sent using a standard letter format, clearly
describing the record we sought. An e-mail address and phone number were
provided in these requests, which were sent to the entity via the U.S. Postal
Service. Four were sent by certified mail and four were sent through standard
mail.
•	 One request was sent to each entity via e-mail in the same format as the standard
letter. A phone number was not included in the request.
•	 One request was made in person at each entity by a team of two Auditor’s Office
employees.
We chose the type of records to request by ease of retrieval for the entity. The list of
requested records was established with the following criteria:
•	 The records likely existed at all 30 entities.
•	 The records would be readily identifiable.
•	 The records should not impose a significant burden upon the agencies to locate
and retrieve.
•	 All 30 entities received the same requests. The e-mailed and mailed requests
were sent on the same day.
Uniformity and consistency among the requests was critical to our ability to measure
the entities’ performance and provide meaningful comparisons, analysis and
conclusions.
The following are the 10 requests and the methods we used to make them:

Request Mode

Description

In-Person Request

Copy of the entity’s sexual harassment
policy. These requests occurred between
February 9 and February 16, 2007.

Certified Letter Request

Copies of the 2005 year-end W-2s or
equivalent records for the top five highest
compensated employees for calendar year
2005. The requests were sent on November
22, 2006.

E-mail Request

Copy of entity’s travel policies. These
requests were sent on December 14, 2006.

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Request Mode

Description

Certified Letter Request

Travel Voucher(s) for selected employees
for July through December 2005. These
requests were sent on December 21, 2006.

Certified Letter Request

May 2006 entity-owned cell phone record
for the top non-elected official or chief
agency official. These requests were sent on
December 28, 2006.

Standard Letter Request

Vacation records for the entity’s top, nonelected financial officer for January 2006
through June 2006. These requests were
sent on December 28, 2006.

Standard Letter Request

Job description for the entity’s Director
of Information Technology or equivalent
employee. These requests were sent on
December 28, 2006.

Certified Letter Request

All records and vouchers showing out-ofstate travel reimbursements or travel costs
for July 2005 through June 2006. One
individual was selected from each entity. For
Counties and Cities, the top law enforcement
officer was selected. These requests were
sent on December 29, 2006.

Standard Letter Request

For selected entity departments, all records
or vouchers showing expenditures for
employee awards and/or recognition in
December 2005 and January 2006. These
requests were sent on January 3, 2007.

Standard Letter Request

Requested a copy of the entity’s most
current phone directory or of one
department of the entity when we believed
the entire entity directory would be too large.
These requests were sent on January 5,
2007.

Measuring Each Entity’s Performance
We used the following criteria to determine whether the entity was responsive or
nonresponsive:
•	 Sufficient responses (conforming records). We considered responses sufficient if
the records we received were consistent with what we requested. We considered
responses complete if a record was close to being responsive to the request and
if the entity explained it was the best available information. We also considered
responses sufficient if the entity indicated that it did not have the record.
•	 Insufficient or incomplete records or responses. We considered responses
insufficient or incomplete if:
•	 The record was not relevant to the request.
•	 The record was incomplete.
•	 The record was improperly redacted.
•	 The entity provided a link to a Web site that contained information that did
not fulfill the request.
•	 Nonresponsive. We considered entities nonresponsive if the entity did not provide
records.
•	 Request not received. Entity stated it did not receive the request.

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Measuring the Entity’s Performance
Responsiveness
An entity’s responsiveness was measured by its performance in providing the
requested records in response to the first request. Entities were evaluated on how
quickly they provided the records. Entities were also evaluated based on how they
responded. If an entity provided records or indicated no records existed, they were
considered responsive.
Entities were considered nonresponsive if:
•	 The entity did not acknowledge the request;
•	 The entity acknowledged the request but required the requestor to submit a
second request to another department;
•	 The entity acknowledged the request but did not provide the records or inform the
requestor that no records had been found that were responsive to the request; or
•	 The entity’s response was not received by the requestor.
We still considered entities responsive even if the records were incomplete or not
consistent with the request, but noted the errors observed.
Timeliness
To evaluate how quickly entities responded with records, we measured each entity’s
performance by the number of business days it took to respond to our public
records requests. We did not count holidays or weekends. Our count started with the
business day after we sent the request and included all business days until the date
we received the entity’s response. Certain adjustments were made to reduce the time
counted when the entity sought clarification and could not fulfill the request until they
received further instruction. In instances where the entity charged for records and
then provided the records once payment was received, the time was counted in the
measure.
Interviews with Public Records Officers and Coordinators
We interviewed 58 Public Records Officers/Coordinators of the 30 entities to assess
their knowledge of the Public Records Act and to gain an understanding of each
entity’s organizational structure and policies and procedures for responding to public
records requests. Our audit procedures were limited to the representations made to
us by the interviewees.
We encountered one incident in which the scope of our audit was limited and may
have affected our audit results. The Thurston County Commissioners refused our
request to interview their Public Records Officer alone and insisted that our interview
be conducted in the presence of a County Commissioner. The Commissioner’s
presence during the interview could have affected the interviewee’s ability to speak
freely to the auditors. The letter from the Thurston County Commissioners denying
our ability to interview the public records officer without oversight is contained in
Appendix A.
The scope of our audit was limited to an analysis of results of our public records
requests and interviews with Public Records Officers. Our audit procedures did not
include verifying and evaluating the design or effectiveness of the entities’ internal
controls over its public records request processes.
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Audit results
Overarching Conclusion
Our audit work revealed that, by and large, most of the 30 entities we audited
are providing good customer service in responding to public records requests.
We tested the entities’ performance by submitting 10 public records requests
to each entity like a citizen would and identified some trouble spots in which
entities need training on the Public Records Act; have problems tracking
requests; or are unable to receive them due to e-mail filters or other issues
with their mail systems.
We identified best practices that the audited entities should consider in order
to improve their performance. Those best practices are contained in this
report on page 33 and are:
•	 The Washington Public Records Act
•	 The Washington Attorney General’s model rules for paper and electronic
records.
•	 Entities’ performance
Our overarching conclusion is that most of the selected entities responded
cooperatively and in a timely manner to our public records requests.

Overarching Recommendations
We developed the following overarching recommendations:
•	 We recommend that entities institute as many elements as possible from
the best practices in this report and the Washington Attorney General’s
model rules regarding paper and electronic records.
•	 The Washington Attorney General’s Office should create standard,
formal training curriculum, which may or may not include a credential,
for all public records officers in the state based on the model rules. The
Washington Legislature should provide funding to the Attorney General’s
Office to establish and maintain this training curriculum. The State and
each local government will be responsible for arranging the training for its
public records officer(s) and ensuring new public records officers receive
the training.
•	 We recommend entities consider tracking costs associated with responding to
requests as a tool that management can use to determine appropriate levels of
staffing and resources.

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Audit Results Table
The information presented in this table is discussed in more detail in Findings 1, 2, 3,
4 and Appendices A (counties), B (cities) and C (state agencies).
Entity Name

# of Requests Quicker
Than Average*

# of Requests out
of 10 that Provided
Conforming Records

Spokane County

7

9

Whatcom County

7

9

Benton County

7

9

Kitsap County

7

8

Clark County

6

9

Snohomish County

6

9

King County

4

9

Pierce County

4

9

Thurston County

3

8

Yakima County

2

5

City of Spokane Valley

9

10

City of Vancouver

8

10

City of Bellevue

7

10

City of Tacoma

6

10

City of Yakima

6

10

City of Everett

5

8

City of Federal Way

4

9

City of Spokane

4

8

City of Kent

3

9

City of Seattle

2

2

Department of General
Administration

10

10

Washington State Lottery

8

8

Department of Social and
Health Services

7

10

Office of Insurance
Commissioner

7

9

Office of Financial
Management

6

10

Washington State Investment
Board

5

8

Department of Revenue

4

10

Department of Labor and
Industries

4

9

Washington State Patrol

3

10

Department of Corrections

3

8

* Each entity’s response time was compared against the average for its entity type; i.e.,
Spokane County was compared to all other counties’ response times.

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Finding 1
Thirty-one of 300 unannounced public records requests (10 percent) were
considered nonresponsive (response or records not received by requestor).
An additional seven responses (2 percent) were either nonconforming or
incomplete.

Background
We considered entities nonresponsive if:
•	 The entity did not acknowledge the request.
•	 The entity acknowledged the request but required the requestor to submit a
second request to another department or office within the same entity.
•	 The entity acknowledged the request but did not provide the records or inform the
requestor that no records had been found that were responsive to the request.
•	 The entity’s response was not received.
We considered the entity responsive however the records were incomplete or
inconsistent with the request. For example:
•	 The records were redacted so extensively that the information requested was no
longer visible,
•	 The records were for a period of time outside of the time period requested,
•	 The records provided were not the best available to fulfill the request. In one
case we received a generic job description for “Director” when a more accurate
document was available.
•	 The requestor was pointed to a Web site that did not provide the records
requested.
•	 The entity did not provide all of the available pages.

Overall Condition
We did not receive responses to 31 (10 percent) of our 300 public records requests.
Summary of Nonresponsive Requests
(does not include the seven incomplete records)

Non-Response Rate by Request Method
Request Method

Number of
Requests

Nonresponsive
(response or
records not
received by
requestor)

Percent
Nonresponsive

Certified Mail

120

10

8.3%

Standard Mail

120

12

10.0%

E-mail

30

8

26.7%

In Person

30

1

6.7%

Totals

300

31

6.7%

1	
10

1

The Public Records Officers at two entities did not have a record of receiving three
of these requests. Two of the requests were submitted to Kitsap County and one request
was submitted to City of Everett. We could not determine the reason the requests were not
received.

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Condition by Entity
Entity

Requests
not
received
Public
Records
Officer

City of Seattle

Entity
directed
requestor
to
resubmit
request to
another
office
within
entity

Entity
response
drafted
or issued,
but not
received
by
requestor

7
4

Dept. of
Corrections

1

Entity
provided
incomplete
or
insufficient
records

1

2

Thurston
County

2

City of
Spokane
City of Everett

Entity
did not
accept
format
of the
request

1

Yakima County

Kitsap County

Entity
did not
correctly
process
the
request;
no
response
received

1
1

1

1

Washington
State Lottery

2

Washington
State
Investment
Board

1

King County

1

1

Pierce County

1

Snohomish
County

1

Spokane
County

1

Clark County

1

Whatcom
County

1

Benton County

1

City of Federal
Way

1

City of Kent

1

Office of
Insurance
Commissioner

1

Dept. of Labor
and Industries

1

Totals

3

10

9

5

4

6

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Description of the nonresponsive requests
In instances in which neither responses nor records were received, or when the
records were not responsive to the request, we sought explanation from the entities.
Explanations were:
•	 Requests were not received by entities: Two entities’ Public Records Officers
stated they had no record of receiving three (1 percent) of our requests.
•	 Kitsap County – Two requests submitted via standard mail,
•	 City of Everett – One request submitted via standard mail.
We submitted nine written requests to each entity and submitted one request to each
entity in person. We submitted all mailed requests to each entity to the same address
as part of the audit testing. We could not determine whether the three requests
in question were lost prior to reaching the entity or if they were lost in the entities’
internal mail handling system. Therefore, we could not use these requests to evaluate
the entity’s responsiveness.
•	 Requests redirected back to the requestor: Ten of our requests (almost 3 percent)
were redirected. The request was received by the entity but the requestor was
directed to resubmit the request to another department, division or office within
the entity. In these circumstances, we consider the entity to be nonresponsive to
our original request. This occurred at:
•	 King County – One instance
•	 City of Seattle – Seven instances
•	 Thurston County – Two instances
In each instance, the requests were acknowledged as received by the entities and a
search of the department for responsive records was performed with no result. The
entity department then told the requestor in the acknowledgement to resubmit the
request a second time to another department or office within the same entity.
When we brought our concerns about redirected public records requests to the
attention of Thurston County, we received the following reply from the County’s Chief
Administrative Officer.
“We do not believe the Board of Commissioners can, or should be responsible for
coordinating public records requests for other Elected Officials such as the Sheriff
or Auditor. Consequently, we believe our timely written responses to these two
requests should be regarded as responsive. Additionally, not only did the County
respond, but forwarded the requests and a copy of our response letter to the Sheriff
and Auditor’s offices as a courtesy. We believe this is the appropriate practice for
a county government that has 21 independently elected officials, each of whom is
independently accountable to the public.”
The Thurston County Treasurer submitted a similar concern to our Office.
Thurston County’s full response regarding redirecting requests is available in Appendix
A.
•	 Responses not received by requestor: In nine instances (3 percent), we did not
receive responses to the initial request from the entities for reasons we were
unable to determine. We noted two instances in which the entities provided
documents showing they responded to our requests. In one instance, the
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entity sent a request for clarification that was never received by our Office. We
performed follow-up procedures to determine why the requestor did not receive a
response:
•	 Spokane County and Whatcom County each had one instance in which they
did not have the actual response to the requestor on file showing it had
been drafted and mailed. Whatcom County had a copy of the e-mail request
with a handwritten note indicating it had been sent, but record of the e-mail
transmission was not available.
•	 Yakima County provided correspondence to auditors during follow-up
procedures for all four instances and stated the correspondence likely was
lost in its mail system.
•	 Snohomish County, City of Federal Way and Department of Corrections
each had one instance, but provided us a copy of their e-mail responses
during our follow-up procedures. The reason the e-mails did not reach the
requestor could not be determined.
•	 Request not correctly processed, no response received by requestor: We
followed up with entities to determine why they were not responsive to our
requests. We found five requests (approximately 2 percent) in which the entity
received the requests but for various reasons, did not fully process them.
Specifically:
•	 City of Everett: The City’s Administration Department received an e-mail
request for the City’s travel policy. The staff member who usually receives
the e-mail was on leave and had been replaced with a staff member who
was not familiar with handling public records requests. Consequently, the
request was not forwarded for further response.
•	 Benton County: The County acknowledged receiving an e-mail request for
its travel policy, but was uncertain whether a response had been sent. The
County did not have documentation to show a response had been drafted.
•	 Clark County: The County mailed a response to the requestor using an
incorrect address due to a clerical error. We submitted a second, follow-up
request and the records were received.
•	 City of Spokane: The City received a certified mail request for the Police
Department’s out-of-state travel. Police Department personnel told us
they sought guidance from the City Attorney but did not follow up with the
attorney. The City did not respond to the request.
•	 Washington State Investment Board: The Board received an e-mail request
for a copy of its travel policy. When we followed up with the agency, staff
couldn’t document that they had responded to that request. They later
produced an e-mail string showing that they had received the request and
a response was drafted indicating that the information was available on
the Board’s Web site. However, the e-mail response was not sent to the
requestor.
•	 Requests not accepted due to format of submittal: When the requestors went
to Lottery headquarters, the security officer at the front counter attempted
to contact the Lottery’s Public Records Officer without success. He was then
instructed to contact the attorney by an unidentified Lottery employee passing by.
The security officer then called the attorney and reported to the requestors that
the attorney stated the requestors would be required to submit a formal public
records request by mail.
During our follow-up with Lottery management, they stated the security officer
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at the front desk was an employee of a private third party and was not familiar
with the Public Records Act. At the time of the walk-in request, the requestors
believed they were submitting their records request to a Lottery employee.
Three requests sent via e-mail to three separate entities were not received. The
entities stated that they suspected the e-mails were blocked by their e-mail filters.
We were able to verify the e-mail filter as the cause only at the Lottery because
the other entities do not keep a record of blocked e-mails.
The e-mail addresses we used to make the requests were provided on the
entities’ own Web sites. Those three entities were:
•	 Pierce County: hstansb@co.pierce.wa.us
•	 City of Seattle: clerk@seattle.gov
•	 Washington State Lottery: Director’s_Office@walottery.com
•	 Nonconforming records received: We received seven responses (more than 2
percent) that either did not conform to our requests or were incomplete.
•	 City of Kent. The City received a request for the five highest-paid
employees. The City responded with W-2 forms that were almost
completely redacted, identifying only “Employer” and “Gross Wages,”
rendering the document of no use. The City’s response was inconsistent
with the request, which stated, “I would like to identify your agency’s five
highest compensated employees” by providing “copies of the 2005 yearend W-2s or equivalent records.”
•	 Office of the Insurance Commissioner: The auditors submitted a walk-in
request for the Office’s sexual harassment policy. The agency sent its
response via e-mail with an image file of the documents attached, which did
not contain page 3 of the four-page document.
•	 Department of Labor and Industries: The auditors submitted a walkin request for the Department’s sexual harassment policy. An agency
employee asked the auditors to write down the request on a plain piece of
paper and then directed the auditors to the Human Rights Commission.
•	 City of Spokane: The City received an e-mail request for its travel policy.
The City’s initial response to the request provided a Web address that did
not produce the records or link to the records, but rather provided links
to other City policies, which included a Business Expense Policy. When we
followed up, the City provided a correct Web address and we were able to
locate the requested records.
•	 Department of Corrections: The Department received a certified letter
requesting the Health Services Administrator’s travel records. The
Department responded via e-mail with an attachment that did not contain
page 2 of the nine-page file.
•	 Washington State Investment Board: The Board received a certified mail
requesting the entity’s five highest-paid employees for 2005. The Board
responded to our request via e-mail by providing a Web site link to the
State of Washington’s Office of Financial Management “2005 Personnel
Detail Report.” However, the general salary information listed in the report
contained the December 2004 compensation and compensation rates.
When we followed up with the Board, it provided the requested information.
•	 Yakima County: The County received a standard mail request for the job
description of its Information Technology Director. In response, the County
sent a generic job description for a “Director” position. Our follow-up
with the County found it had a job description specifically applicable to its
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Information Technology Director and we were provided that record at that
time.

Cause
The underlying cause for failure to successfully respond to public records requests is
when entities do not follow best practices and the guidelines contained in the Attorney
General’s model rules.
Contributing factors include:
•	 Entities that do not review records to make sure they fulfill the request before
providing them to requestors.
•	 Entities that rely on a method of mail delivery that failed, such as e-mail
transmission failures or delivery failures.

Effect or potential effect
The failure to be responsive to public records requests exposes the entities to a loss
of public trust and possible litigation.

Recommendations
We recommend that entities follow the Attorney General’s model rules and the best
practices identified in this report to the fullest extent possible, particularly in regard to
the following:
•	 Establish and follow processes to ensure that all requests are received.
•	 Evaluate processes and controls over incoming mail to ensure records requests
are found and properly routed.
•	 Refrain from redirecting requestors to another department or office within the
same entity or requiring requestors to initiate a “new” request within the same
entity.
•	 Avoid the use of e-mail filters that result in the entity rejecting or overlooking
public records requests. See related Finding No. 2.
•	 Review responses and communicate with requestors to ensure that records
provided are consistent with the request.

Criteria
See Appendix K

Entities’ Responses
See Appendix A, B and C

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Finding 2
Some entities do not accommodate one or more means
of communicating public records requests and therefore
do not provide the public with the fullest assistance.
Condition
During our audit interviews, we were informed of the following:
•	 The following four entities stated they require a public records request form for inperson requests. However, two of the four entities (City of Spokane and Thurston
County) did not require us to fill out a public records form when we conducted our
walk-in requests for a copy of the entity’s sexual harassment policy.
•	 City of Spokane
•	 City of Kent1
•	 Thurston County
•	 Office of the Insurance Commissioner
•	 The following entities’ policies or practices do not accommodate public records
requests submitted by e-mail. Such policies may prevent requestors who do not
have other means of interacting with the entity.
•	 Spokane County
•	 City of Spokane
Despite their stated policies, these entities accepted and responded to our
unannounced e-mailed requests.
•	 The following entities’ e-mail filters prevented them from receiving the records
requests sent by SAO to e-mail addresses provided on their Web sites as a means
for the public to contact them:
•	 Pierce County: hstansb@co.pierce.wa.us
•	 City of Seattle: clerk@seattle.gov
•	 Washington State Lottery: Director’s_Office@walottery.com
•	 Some entities use various types of available technology for the public to submit
requests through their Web sites.
The following entities provide downloadable records request forms on their Web
sites, but do not allow those forms to be submitted through their Web sites.
•	 Spokane County
•	 Pierce County
•	 Whatcom County
1	
The City of Kent will accept other written forms provided they include all of the
following, per City Code, KCC 1.05.060:
•	 The date of the request;
•	 The name of the requester;
•	 The full address of the requester;
•	 The telephone number of the requester;
•	 A complete description of the requested record;
•	 The title and date of the requested record, if known;
•	 The location of the requested record, if known; and
•	 Whether the requester intends to review the records or to obtain a copy of the
records.
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•	
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	

City of Vancouver
City of Bellevue
City of Everett
City of Spokane Valley
City of Federal Way
Department of Labor and Industries
Washington State Patrol
Department of Social and Health Services

•	 Five entities stated they do not accommodate public records requests by
telephone. They were:
•	 Benton County (Commissioner’s Office, Sheriff’s Department, and Planning
and Building Department)
•	 City of Spokane (Clerk’s Office and Police Department)
•	 City of Kent does not accommodate requests by telephone or fax
•	 Office of the Insurance Commissioner
•	 Washington State Patrol
The following entities employ a best practice of facilitating online public records
request submittal through their Web sites:
•	 Kitsap County
•	 Department of Revenue
•	 Department of Corrections
•	 City of Kent
•	 City of Tacoma
The remaining entities did not have Web sites that provided public records
request forms that could be downloaded or submitted through their Web site.

Cause
Fulfilling public records requests is a unique and fundamental responsibility of
government for providing accountability and transparency to the public. The audit
revealed that an entity’s attitude towards public records requests in general influences
how responsive it will be to public records requests.
Entities that demonstrate an awareness of how they can make public records
requests easier for citizens demonstrated better customer service in responding to
public records requests.
Entity leaders and managers can encourage entity staff to embrace the spirit of the
Public Records Act by communicating the importance of promoting transparency and
openness through fulfilling public records requests.

Effect
Entities that do not accommodate a variety of forms of public records requests
do not provide the public with the fullest assistance required by the Act. Failure to
respond to public records requests has a negative affect on the public’s perception of
the entity’s openness to citizens and increases an entity’s litigation risk.

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Recommendations
We recommend that entities:
•	 Establish policies that are consistent with the Public Records Act, using the
Attorney General’s model rules as a guide.
•	 Conduct broad staff training on the Public Records Act.
•	 Accommodate as many modes of requesting public records as is practically
possible.
•	 Select and set e-mail filters at a level that will not block public records requests.
•	 Consider receiving records requests online.
•	 Develop a policy that clearly outlines how public records requests can be
accepted and make that policy readily available to the public.

Criteria
See Appendix K.
The entities listed in the last paragraph of the Condition (page 17) are cited as
employing a best practice for online records requests.

Entities’ Responses
See Appendix A, B and C

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Finding 3
Some entities did not provide complete and satisfactory
explanations for redactions of public records and
some records were improperly redacted.
Background
Numerous exemptions from public disclosure of information exist in state law. The
Public Records Act says redacted documents shall also have an explanation for the
redactions.
More than 300 exemptions are contained in the Public Records Act; many more are
scattered throughout state law. The Sunshine Committee has identified the 300-plus
exemptions, located at:
http://www.atg.wa.gov/opengovernment/sunshine.aspx.
The Attorney General’s Office Open Government Internet Manual, which includes
current exemptions, is available at:
http://www.atg.wa.gov/OpenGovernment/InternetManual.aspx
The original 10 exemptions from 1972 are:
1.	 Personal information in any files maintained for students in public schools,
patients or clients of public institutions or public health agencies, welfare
recipients, prisoners, probationers or parolees.
2.	 Personal information in files maintained for employees, appointees, or elected
officials of any public agency to the extent that disclosure would violate their right
to privacy.
3.	 Information required of any taxpayer in connection with the assessment or
collection of any tax if the disclosure of the information to other persons would
violate the taxpayer’s right to privacy or would result in unfair competitive
disadvantage to such taxpayer.
4.	 Specific intelligence information and specific investigative files compiled by
investigative, law enforcement and penology agencies, and state agencies vested
with the responsibility to discipline members of any profession, the nondisclosure
of which is essential to effective law enforcement or for the protection of any
person’s right to privacy.
5.	 Information revealing the identity of persons who file complaints with an
investigative, law enforcement or penology agencies, except as the complainant
may authorize.
6.	 Test questions, scoring keys, and other examination data used to administer a
license, employment or academic examination.
7.	 Except as provided by chapter 8.26 RCW, the contents of real estate appraisals
made for or by any agency relative to the acquisition of property until the project
is abandoned or until such time as all of the property has been acquired, but in no
event shall disclosure be denied for more than three years after the appraisal.
8.	 Valuable formulae, designs, drawings, and research data obtained by any agency
within five years of the request for disclosure when disclosure would produce
private gain and public loss
9.	 Preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, and intra-agency memorandums in
which opinions are expressed or policies formulated or recommended except
that a specific record shall not be exempt when publicly cited by an agency in
connection with any agency action.
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10.	Records which are relevant to a controversy to which an agency is a party but
which records would not be available to another party under the rules of pretrial
discovery for causes pending in the superior courts.
All of the original 10 exemptions still exist in state law, but most have been modified
from their original forms.
All entity records are available for review by the public unless state law specifically
exempts them from disclosure. If no exemption applies, the requested records are
disclosable. People who are named in a record or who are the subject of a record
may seek a court injunction to prevent the disclosure of a record. Public entities are
not relieved of their obligations to respond to requests for public records because
a portion of the document is exempt. Public entities have a duty to redact specific
information covered by an exemption and disclose the remainder of the document.
The Public Records Act provides that exemptions are to be narrowly construed.
A good faith response by a public agency in releasing a public record absolves the
agency or any public official or employee from liability arising from the disclosure.
For example, an individual named in a public record may not hold a public agency
liable for a good faith release of that record on the grounds that disclosure violates
an individual’s “right to privacy.” Agencies that release records with possible privacy
implications may wish to contact the individual.
Washington courts have not defined specifically which records, if released, could
violate a right of privacy. For example, state law specifically exempts residential
addresses and telephone numbers for public employees from disclosure.
The Act lists 34 categories of public records that are exempt from disclosure. These
are exemptions, not prohibitions; an agency may waive an exemption if it chooses to
do so.
Other state laws specifically prohibit the release of some information. And many
documents contain some information that is exempt along with other information that
is not exempt.

Condition
We received 43 records with acceptable redactions, 11 (26 percent) of which did not
cite the specific legal exemption for the redactions, as required by the Act.
•	 Benton County: Five highest-paid employees
•	 City of Bellevue: Out-of-state travel
•	 City of Everett: Out-of-state travel
•	 Department of Corrections: Travel vouchers for selected employees
•	 Department of Revenue: Travel vouchers for selected employees
•	 Pierce County: Vacation records for entity’s top financial officer,
•	 Snohomish County: Entity-owned cell phone record for the top non-elected officer,
January through June 2006
•	 Spokane County (2):
•	 Out-of-state Travel
•	 Voucher for employee awards
•	 Washington State Investment Board: Out-of-state travel
•	 Whatcom County: Travel vouchers for selected employees

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In one instance, we believe elements of the records were redacted inappropriately.
The redactions affected the usability of the records. As described in Finding 1, when
the City of Kent responded to our request for the names and salaries of the five
highest-paid employees, some of the redactions were appropriate, such as Social
Security numbers and home addresses. However, the names of the employees were
legally required to be disclosed, and the records did not provide that information.

Cause
The causes for the 11 instances of unexplained redactions as well as the one
instance of overredaction were twofold:
•	 Entities did not review the records prior to their release to ensure redactions were
explained.
•	 Entities were concerned about releasing “private” information about employees
but may not have verified that the redactions were allowed under state law.
Our study of state laws and administrative codes, media coverage of public records
issues, communications to agencies from the Governor and interviews with public
records staff at the 30 entities identified causes that may contribute to entities not
fully disclosing records:
Lack of training
•	 In some instances, entity staff who are responsible for filling records requests
do not appear to understand what information may be legally redacted and
what information may not be redacted. Based on our review and analysis
of the records that entities provided in response to the requests, it was
evident the records had been compiled and put through a redaction review
process. However, the reasons for the redactions were not explained in the
correspondence with the requestor.
•	 Entity staff may interpret “right to privacy” much more broadly than state law
does. Our interviews with entity staff indicated that some public employees and
public records officers have a perception that public employees’ right to privacy is
compromised by public records requests. In fact, employee information such as
salaries, is disclosable under state law.
•	 At least three entity public records disclosure staff who responded to our
unannounced request stated they felt privacy laws were unclear. As a result,
they were apprehensive about failing to redact information that is exempt from
disclosure. This may result in inappropriate redactions and illustrates the need for
training.
Conflict with the requestor
Some entities receive a large number of records requests from a small number of
individuals and in some cases, an adversarial relationship has developed between the
entity and the requestor(s).
Attitude
•	 Some entities see the Act as an unfunded mandate imposed upon the entity.
•	 Some entities expressed concern that some records could embarrass the entity.

Effect or potential effect
Citizens want and expect government to be accountable and transparent. A
public entity’s failure to explain redactions can lead to distrust and suspicion by
the requestor and can erode the public’s perception of the entity’s commitment to
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accountability and transparency. Additionally, improper redactions increase entities’
risk of lawsuits, court-imposed penalties and associated legal costs for failure to
comply with the requirements of the Act.

Recommendations
We recommend that entities:
•	 Provide comprehensive training and resource materials on legal exemptions to
staff who respond to records requests.
•	 Describe the specific exemption that applies to each redaction when the records
are provided to requestors.
•	 Inform requestors about their rights to appeal the entity’s denial of all or part of
their records request and the process available to them to appeal the denial.
•	 Seek guidance when determining whether redactions are legal.

Criteria
See Appendix K

Entities’ Responses
See Appendix A, B and C

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Finding 4
Some entities provided the requested public records
in a less timely manner than their peers.
Background
Within five business days of receiving a public records request, state law requires
entities to:
•	 Provide the requested record.
•	 Acknowledge receipt of the request and provide a reasonable estimate of the
time required to fill the request.
•	 Deny the request and notify the requestor of the reason.
Public entities invest much of their resources in their day-to-day operations. Although
public records requests often occur at busy times, the Public Records Act requires public
entities to adopt procedures that provide full access to public records while preventing
excessive interference with their other essential functions and to provide the “fullest
assistance” to requestors and provide the “most timely possible action” on public records
requests. As noted in the Attorney General’s Office’s advisory model rules:
“In general, an agency should devote sufficient staff time to processing records
requests, consistent with the act’s requirements that fulfilling requests should not be
an “excessive interference” with the agency’s “other essential functions.” The agency
should recognize that fulfilling public records requests is one of the agency’s duties,
along with its others.”
The Public Records Act requires entities to address these questions when they
receive a request for public records:
•	 Is/are the requested record(s) exempt from disclosure or prohibited from being
disclosed?
•	 If the requested record(s) is/are exempt, what information can be redacted from
the record(s) so the records might still be released?
The Act requires a “timely” response, which it loosely defines as “prompt” and “most
timely possible.” Factors affecting the timeliness of responses to public records
requests are:
•	 Entity seeks clarification from the requestor.
•	 The amount of time it takes to locate and assemble the records.
•	 Notifying third parties or agencies affected by the request.
•	 Determining whether any of the information is exempt and whether a denial should
be made to all, or part, of the request.
•	 The volume, nature and availability of the requested records.

Condition
The table below shows the slowest1 requests by entity . The table shows how long
each entity took to respond to the requests, the average for other entities of the
same type and the reason for the length of time for the response.
1 “Slowest” was defined using the average time for each request by each entity type.
To be considered for inclusion, a threshold was developed that listed all responses that
took longer than 10 business days and were 5 business days or more than average.
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Entity

Request

Actual
Average Reasons‡
Response Days
Time*
Response
Time for
entity
type*§
Counties

Pierce County

Travel
vouchers

19

10

Copies were provided
after requestor paid
copying fees. The County
sent a letter requesting
payment that was
received six calendar days
after date of the letter.
Records were received
three business days after
payment was mailed.

Pierce County

Cell phone
invoice

11

6

Copies were provided
after requestor paid
copying fees. Records
were received three
business days after
payment was mailed.

Snohomish
County

Cell
phone invoice

14

6

Copies were provided
after requestor paid
copying fees. Records
were received two
business days after
payment was mailed.

Snohomish
County

Vacation
records

22

8

Copies were provided
after requestor paid
copying fees. The County
miscalculated the cost of
the copies and adjusted
charges. The requestor
provided payment for
an unrelated incorrect
amount. These errors by
the County and requestor
delayed the response by
14 business days. The
records were received
four business days after
correct payment was
mailed.

(Pierce County
produced an
e-mail dated
1/11/07
that was not
received by
the requestor.
Consideration
of that e-mail
would have
resulted in
a response
provided in 16
business days.)

* Business
days

24

§ Average
days a
response
took for
cities,
counties
or state
agencies

‡ Reasons given by
the entity or observed
by auditors

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Entity

Request

Snohomish
County

Out-of-state
travel

22

16

Copies were provided
after requestor paid
copying fees. Records
were provided three
business days after
payment was mailed.

Spokane
County

Information
Technology
Director
job description

18

7

County apologized for
being “late” with the
response without providing
an explanation.

Spokane
County

Employee
recognition
awards

15

8

The County did not
provide a reason for the
length of time to respond.
The entity provided a large
number of documents (32
pages with redactions).

Kitsap County

Out-of-state
travel

29

16

County said the response
was delayed because it
was “misdirected through
the County mail system”
when it was transferred
to the Sheriff’s Office.
The Office received the
request six business days
after it was mailed. The
County took an additional
23 business days to
provide 21 redacted
documents.

Yakima County 2005 top five
highest-paid
employees

14

6

The County did not
provide a reason for the
length of time to respond.

Thurston
County

15

10

The County called the
requestor to apologize
for delay, caused by staff
taking emergency leave.

9

The City anticipated delays
in providing the records
due to short staffing
during the holidays.

Travel
vouchers

Actual
Average Reasons‡
Response Days
Time*
Response
Time for
entity
type*§

Cities
Spokane

Travel
vouchers

16

* Business
days

§ Average
days a
response
took for
cities,
counties
or state
agencies

‡ Reasons given by
the entity or observed
by auditors

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Entity

Request

Actual
Average Reasons‡
Response Days
Time*
Response
Time for
entity
type*§

Tacoma

Out-of-state
travel

40

16

City told requestor
response was delayed due
to weather and staff issues.

Vancouver

Cell phone
invoice

13

7

In its acknowledgement,
the City said it “will need
approximately 15 business
days to assemble the
requested documents and
review them for release.”

Bellevue

Out-of-state
travel

21

16

The City provided the
status of request during
processing. The City
provided 105 pages of
records, which took 14
business days.

Federal Way

Travel
vouchers

19

9

Records were received
two business days after
the requestor mailed
payment for copying.
The City did not provide
a reason for the length of
time to respond.

Federal Way

Out-of-state
travel

35

16

City provided records
five business days after
requestor mailed copy
payment but did not
explain the response time.

Kent

2005 top five
highest-paid
employees

20

7

City estimated response in
21 calendar days but did
not explain.

Kent

Information
Technology
Director job
description

13

5

City estimated response in
21 calendar days but did
not explain.

10

Entity e-mailed requestor
with clarification request.
E-mails sent by the
requestor were denied by
the entity’s e-mail system.
Requestor provided
information by mail, which
slowed the process.

State Agencies
Department of 2005 Top 5
Revenue
highest-paid
employees

26

* Business
days

26

§ Average
days a
response
took for
cities,
counties
or state
agencies

‡ Reasons given by
the entity or observed
by auditors

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Entity

Request

Actual
Average Reasons‡
Response Days
Time*
Response
Time for
entity
type*§

Office of the
Travel policy
Insurance
Commissioner

13

4

The Office apologized to
the requestor for the delay
in providing the records
and attributed the delay to
equipment problems.

Department
of Social
and Health
Services

2005 top five
highest-paid
employees

17

12

Department informed
the requestor more time
was needed to provide
employees named in the
request time to seek a
court injunction to block
the release of the records,
consistent with its
procedures.

Department
of Social
and Health
Services

Vacation
records

14

9

The Department’s
acknowledgement said it
“estimate(d) 20 business
days... to locate, review,
and copy the records you
requested.”

Department
of Social
and Health
Services

Out-of-state
travel

19

8

The Department’s
acknowledgement
said it “estimate(d) 20
business days... to locate,
review, and prepare
the information you
requested.”

Note: DSHS stated three of the five employees included in the request for payroll records are subject
to a collective bargaining agreement that requires the agency to notify employees when documents in
a personnel file are requested under public disclosure laws. As a result, the Department’s responses to
such requests are likely to take longer to be filled than for agencies that are not subject to the same
agreement. That Department did not communicate that when it provided the records.

Department
of Labor and
Industries

Entity phone
directory

14

6

The Department did not
provide a reason for the
length of time to respond.

Washington
State Patrol

Travel
vouchers

27

13

Records were received
from the entity 10
business days after the
requestor mailed copying
fees. The entity did not
provide a reason for the
length of time to respond.

* Business
days

§ Average
days a
response
took for
cities,
counties
or state
agencies

‡ Reasons given by
the entity or observed
by auditors

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Entity

Request

Actual
Average Reasons‡
Response Days
Time*
Response
Time for
entity
type*§

Washington
State Patrol

Cell
phone invoice

13

8

Did not provide a reason
for the length of time to
respond.

Washington
State Patrol

Out-of-state
travel

24

8

Records were received
four business days after
the requestor mailed
copying fees. Patrol did
not provide a reason for
the response time, but
provided 57 redacted
pages.

Washington
State Patrol

Employee
recognition
awards

15

8

Did not provide a reason
for the length of time to
respond.

Department of 2005 Top 5
Corrections
highest-paid
employees

17

12

Department informed the
requestor the request
would require staff to
manually sort W-2s
for more than 16,000
employees to find the
information. Records
were received eight
business days following
acknowledgement.

Department of Travel
Corrections
vouchers

21

13

Department apologized
for response timeline,
citing “weather and other
events” for the delay.

Department of Cell phone
Corrections
invoice

14

8

Records were received
nine business days after
the requestor mailed
payment for copying

Department of Vacation
Corrections
records

19

9

Department indicated an
additional 10 business
days was needed to give
the staff named a chance
to block the request by
seeking court order.
Records were received
five business days after
the requestor mailed
payment for copying fees.

* Business
days

28

§ Average
days a
response
took for
cities,
counties
or state
agencies

‡ Reasons given by
the entity or observed
by auditors

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Entity

Request

Actual
Average Reasons‡
Response Days
Time*
Response
Time for
entity
type*§

Department of Information
Corrections
Technology
Director job
description

20

7

Records were received 12
business days after the
requestor mailed payment
for copying fees.

Department of Phone
Corrections
Directory

14

6

Records were received six
business days after the
requestor mailed payment
for copying.

Washington
State
Investment
Board

Travel
vouchers

19

13

The Board stated the
request would be delayed
because the records
needed to be redacted.
The entity provided 105
pages with redactions,
which was larger than any
other entity’s response to
this request.

Washington
State
Investment
Board

Cell phone
invoice

15

8

The Board did not provide
a reason for the length of
time to respond.

* Business
days

§ Average
days a
response
took for
cities,
counties
or state
agencies

‡ Reasons given by
the entity or observed
by auditors

Cause
Based on our analysis of the responses to our unannounced records requests,
interviews with the entities and our research, we found timeliness in responding to
public records requests is affected by:
Attitude
An organization’s attitude toward records requests is critical to how successfully an
entity responds to public records requests. In our interviews with entity staff, more
than half responded that attitude and customer service are critical elements to a
successful response. (See Appendix D)
One entity – the City of Spokane – stated that the Public Records Act is an “unfunded
mandate” and placed it on its legislative agenda to modify the Act.
Entity focus
An entity can focus on what records or elements of records should not be provided
or it can focus on providing the records, while still complying with exemptions from
disclosure. It comes down to whether the entity’s overall goal is to establish a culture
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of compliance accompanied by a culture of cooperation in responding to public
records requests.
Training
In our interviews, staff at 18 of the 30 entities identified training as a critical factor
in successfully responding to public records requests. Our audit testing and followup interviews suggests that a lack of understanding of the Act and the Attorney
General’s model rules affects an entity’s timeliness in responding to public records
requests. For example, during interviews, we heard concerns about public employees’
“right to privacy” and a lack of understanding on which records are disclosable and
which are exempt. This appears to have resulted in some entities being less timely in
responding to requests.
Communications with the requestor
Some entities provided records without providing a reason why the length of time it
took to respond was necessary. We noted at least two cases at two entities in which
the entities allowed employees named in the request additional time to seek a court
injunction. The entities informed the requestor that this process was taking place
and would likely result in a delay in providing the records. The entities explained
this process was part of their policy or procedures. They did not explain why these
policies or procedures were necessary. For these requests, the effect was a less
timely response than entities that did not apply the same practice.
Operating environment
We identified three factors affecting an entity’s operating environment:
•	 Sensitive and proprietary records: In instances in which many of a public entity’s
activities deal with proprietary or sensitive information, staff has a heightened
sensitivity to records requests that could place an agency in violation of state
law. For example, the Department of Revenue indicated it has incorporated
procedures that are applied to all responses to avoid disclosing records
inappropriately.
•	 Size and complexity: An entity’s size and complexity may contribute to it being
less timely in locating and responding to public records requests. A culture of
bureaucracy can affect the process. In some cases, this is seen in an agency’s
failure to empower employees to provide records, including simple requests,
without supervisory review.
•	 Organizational structure: Organizational structure can affect an entity’s timely
response to records requests. Many public entities are organized into separate
divisions or workgroups that operate with significant autonomy from the whole. We
noted instances, including Thurston County and City of Seattle, where an entity’s
departments, offices, or organizational units have individual and different policies
and practices for processing records requests. This is problematic because the
public often perceives one entity – such as a county – as a unified organization and
if the requestor does not make a request to the appropriate department or office,
the timeliness of the response can be significantly delayed. One entity told us that
rather than referring the request internally to the appropriate department or office
for the requestor, they help the requestor identify the appropriate department or
office and direct them to resubmit the request.
Electronic records
Our testing showed that the average response time with electronic records was 1.6
days, versus an average of 4.2 days with paper records. In other words, entities
responded approximately three times faster when they provided electronic records
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instead of hard copies of records. Providing records electronically also avoids the
expense associated with producing, mailing and billing for copies.
However, we also recognize that the use of e-mail comes with challenges as filters are
applied by requestor to their e-mail accounts which can impair the effectiveness of the
communication by entities. Requestors should be aware, when requesting and receiving
records using e-mail of the risks of non-receipt and entities should be aware they can
occur and consider using follow-up phone calls to indicate a response has been provided.
As part of our unannounced public records requests we provided the entities with an
e-mail address. Many of the entities used the e-mail addresses to respond and to
provide the records electronically.
Staff interviewed at 17 of the 30 entities voiced the desire for their entities to convert
more records to electronic format, believing it would improve the accessibility and
retrieval of records (See Appendix D).
Copy Fees
Forty-six responses from 19 entities included charges for copying fees. Entities that
provided copies with a bill for copy fees responded to their requests faster than
entities that provided records after receiving payment from the requestor. Entities
that required payment before sending out the records did have the records available
for inspection prior to release to the requestor.
Four entities provided records along with the request for payment of copy fees:
•	 Spokane County – one response
•	 City of Seattle – one response
•	 Office of Financial Management – two responses
•	 Washington State Investment Board – three responses
Nine entities withheld copies of records pending payment of the copy fees:
•	 King County – one response
•	 Snohomish County – three responses
•	 Whatcom County – two responses
•	 City of Tacoma – one response
•	 City of Bellevue – one response
•	 City of Federal Way – two responses
•	 City of Kent – one response
•	 Washington State Patrol – two responses
•	 Department of Corrections – five responses
Six entities had mixed results where some records were provided with the request for
payment and some copies of the records were withheld pending payment of copy fees:
•	 Pierce County – three responses withheld; one response provided
•	 Kitsap County – one response withheld; one response provided
•	 City of Spokane - one response withheld; one response provided
•	 City of Everett – one response withheld; three responses provided
•	 City of Spokane Valley – three responses provided; one response withheld
•	 Department of Social and Health Services – one request withheld; three requests
provided

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Redactions
We examined whether redactions affected an entity’s timeliness in providing public
records. We expected that if a requested record contained information subject
to redaction, it would slow down the response. The results of our analysis of the
unannounced requests disclosed that responses with records containing redactions
took an average of 13.3 days versus 5.7 days for records without redactions.

Effect or potential effect
•	 Entities failing to respond in a timely manner risk the loss of public confidence
and litigation.
•	 Many public records are perceived as being “time sensitive” to requestors. When
a public entity fails to provide records in a timely manner, the result may be that
the records are no longer useful to the requestor.

Recommendations
We recommend entities review their public records requests processes to identify
and eliminate those elements that may delay providing records. Specifically, we
recommend entities:
•	 Prioritize incoming records requests to identify those that require review and/or
redaction versus more straightforward requests that can be fulfilled more quickly.
•	 Use e-mail to respond to public records requests whenever possible.
•	 Explore opportunities for providing records electronically.
•	 Provide training for staff on processing public records requests.
•	 Provide cross-training to other staff to prepare them for acknowledging and
responding to requests.
•	 Provide records in installments.
•	 Consider waiving copying charges for small records requests.
•	 Engage in ongoing communication with the requestor about priorities and
timelines when a request is identified that may take some time to fill.

Criteria
See Appendix K

Entities’ Responses
See Appendix A, B and C

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Best practices identified during the audit
We observed during the audit that entities that receive a large volume of public
records requests are beginning to use many of the practices found in the Attorney
General’s Office model rules to address the public’s perception of accountability and
transparency.
Our audit identified elements and processes we consider to be best practices in
responding to public records requests. Some of these also are found in the Attorney
General’s Office model rules and are addressed in the audit findings. They are:
•	 Entity management’s attitude toward customer service partly determines
how it will respond to public records requests. This element is addressed in
the Attorney General’s Office model rules with an overall goal of establishing
a “culture of compliance” for the public entities and a “culture of cooperation”
among the requestors. Public records officers and coordinators stated that
when public records requests are given a priority, it positively affects the entity’s
efficiency and effectiveness in filling those requests. An entity with a commitment
to customer service and that responds to records requests in a positive manner
demonstrates the entity’s commitment to accountability and transparency. Such
an entity will likely diffuse tension, reduce conflict, and more importantly build
goodwill and trust with the public. A positive attitude is also demonstrated when
entities follow up after the request has been filled to ensure that the information
requested was provided and useful to the requestor.
•	 Training is necessary to an entity’s success in responding to records requests.
An entity must be knowledgeable of the Act and of exemptions to public
disclosure.
Public records training should extend beyond the entity’s management and
supervisors. Entities should provide training to all entity staff likely to encounter
members of the public requesting public records. For example, training should
be provided to front-line staff who come into daily contact with the public to assist
them in recognizing when a request/inquiry from the public should be considered
a records request.
When all appropriate entity staff receive training in the Public Records Act and
in their own entities’ policies, they are in a better position to provide the fullest
assistance to the public and to take the most timely possible action in responding
to requests.
•	 Prioritizing requests. When a records request is received, entities should
assess its complexity. Requests that are easy to accommodate should be
processed more quickly than the larger and more complex requests. Entities
should avoid the “one size fits all” approach to responding to public records
requests.
In the case of more complex records requests, entities may want to do a more
detailed evaluation to determine the record’s existence, location, sensitivity to
exemptions and the time needed to locate the records and then get them to the
requestor. The Act, however requires the entity to acknowledge the request within
five business days, and states if the record(s) can’t be provided at that time, a
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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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reasonable estimate of when the records will be provided must be given.
•	 Tracking requests. Agencies should have a process for tracking requests that
begins when the request is received. Tracking requests reduces the risk of losing
or overlooking requests, can speed up responsiveness and provides a paper trail
in the event of disputes. All entities indicated they had a variety of mechanisms
established for tracking requests received, however these ranged from informal,
manual tracking to database software applications. The level of sophistication
was determined by the quantity of requests an entity receives. Further, these vary
based on the department or office within the entity.
•	 Effective monitoring. Effectively managing and monitoring records requests
from receipt to completion provides a more timely and complete response to
requests. Further, monitoring public records requests helps verify that record(s)
provided were reviewed for consistency with the letter of the request(s) prior to
being provided to the requestor(s). This was evident from the number of requests
that received correct responses, as noted in our “Overall Results in Appendix J.”
•	 Monitoring e-mail blocked by e-mail filters. Effective monitoring of incoming
e-mails ensures e-mails of a legitimate business nature are identified and provides
improved assurance the entity will be responsive to records requests.
•	 Central point of contact for public records. The administration of public
records should be centralized in some fashion to improve effective monitoring of
the entity’s efficiency and effectiveness in responding to public records requests.
The concept of centralization is more than the entity using a central location for
public records administration. For large and complex entities, centralization can
occur when the departments, offices, or divisions have separately designated
public records officers and elected officials who field and process requests
specific to their offices.
Regardless of the entity’s organizational structure, it is important that no matter
where the request is received, the request must be referred internally to the
appropriate department, office or division. The entity should avoid redirecting the
requestor to another department, office or division.
Our analysis of the responsiveness of the entities using centralized monitoring
systems versus those with a decentralized monitoring process shows centralized
methods were more likely to provide correct responses. Entities who exhibited
centralized processing functions are as follows:
•	 City of Bellevue
•	 City of Kent
•	 City of Spokane Valley
•	 City of Vancouver
•	 City of Yakima
•	 Clark County
•	 Kitsap County
•	 Snohomish County
•	 Spokane County
•	 Whatcom County
•	 Yakima County
•	 All 10 State Agencies
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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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•	 Visible signage. Providing signage to assist requestors in directing their requests
provides a customer-friendly atmosphere and demonstrates a culture of
openness. Entities should evaluate signage to determine if it assists the public
in making successful public records requests. For example, Kitsap County’s
administration building houses a kiosk with a touch screen listing all services
provided by the County, including public disclosure requests. Entities where visible
signage was observed by those who submitted our walk-in requests were:
•	 Pierce County
•	 Kitsap County
•	 City of Seattle
•	 City of Tacoma  
•	 City of Yakima  
•	 Department of General Administration
•	 Transparency and communication. Providing tools such as a Web site
to assist requestors is a best practice that should be considered. Keeping
requestors informed of the status of their requests, in particular, seeking
clarification of the requests and/or requesting additional time to fulfill the
request(s) demonstrates accountability and transparency. Providing an accurate
and reasonable estimate of when the records will be provided is also critical. One
challenge identified in our interviews result from instances when the entity seeks
clarification from the requestor to ensure the specific elements of the request
are being addressed. Entities expressed concern about balancing the need for
clarification while avoiding asking the requestors “why” they are making the
request. We observed entity responses which exceeded the intent of the request.
We identified these as best practices. In summary, requestor expectations
are exceeded when the entity provides additional information identified during
gathering which may help the requestor, or provide detailed communication to
ensure the requestor is informed throughout the process.
•	 User-friendly Web site. When entities provide guidance and information to the
public for making public records request on its Web site, this communicates
a culture of openness to the public and reinforces the entity’s commitment to
accountability and transparency. Conversely, when an entity does not provide
this kind of information on its Web site, potential requestors may become
frustrated and question the entity’s commitment to openness, accountability and
transparency. Our audit discovered a number of entities that use Web sites to
provide assistance in making an effective public records request. One of the best
examples we found was Whatcom County’s Web site (http://www.whatcomcounty.
us/publicrecords/), which provides a direct link to the county’s Public Records
Officer under a heading of “Hot Topics”. The county’s “Public Disclosure
Information” page provides extensive information to assist the public in submitting
a public records request; For example:
•	 Public Records Officer’s name, address, phone number, fax number and
e-mail address.
•	 Electronic public records request form.
•	 Link to the County’s public records policy
•	 Link to the Public Records Act
•	 Link to a listing of exempt records
•	 Link to other laws that define exempt records
•	 List of online sources of public records
•	 Cost for copying public records
•	 Role of the Public Records Officer
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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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•	

Summary of key elements of the County’s public record’s policy

Other entities whose Web sites were easy to use during our initial planning included:
•	
City of Bellevue
•	
City of Everett
•	
City of Federal Way
•	
City of Kent
•	
City of Seattle
•	
City of Spokane
•	
City of Spokane Valley
•	
City of Tacoma
•	
City of Vancouver
•	
Clark County
•	
King County
•	
Kitsap County
•	
Snohomish County
•	
Spokane County
•	
Whatcom County
•	
Department of Revenue
•	
Department of Corrections
•	
Department of Labor and Industries*
•	
Office of the Insurance Commissioner
•	
Washington State Patrol
*We noted the Department of Labor and Industries Web site received national
recognition in winning the 2005 “People’s Voice” Webby award for Insurance related
sites (See http://www.webbyawards.com/webbys/winners-2005.php#webby_entry_
government)
•	
Records management and information technology. The use of information
technology can assist entities in being more responsive to records requests and
demonstrates transparency and accountability. Specifically, providing commonly
requested public records on Web sites is in our opinion, a best practice based on the
results of our unannounced records requests.
Public Records Officers and Coordinators told us that they want their entities to
convert more records to electronic form, which would facilitate retrieval and expedite
the process of providing records to the public. We believe this was verified by the
results of our unannounced requests, in which a number of entities provided the
requested records to us in a timely manner using the e-mail addresses we provided in
our requests.
During our audit, 23 percent of the requests we made via e-mail were nonresponsive.
While the Open Public Records Act does not specifically address e-mail requests,
public entities are to provide the fullest assistance to requestors and take the most
timely possible action in responding to requests. Entities that do not accept public
records requests electronically may want to reassess this position, as it appears to
conflict with the spirit of the Act and Attorney General’s Office’s model rules. Public
entities should consider establishing an e-mail address dedicated to public records
requests and provide that address on their Web sites. During our audit, we noted
some entities are using filters to trap unwanted e-mails. One way to avoid issues with
e-mail being filtered is the use of a Web form to be used for making records requests.
See Finding 2 for additional discussion of this element.
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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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•	 Copying charges. For entities with established policies on charges for copies
of public records should consider establishing a de minimis copy policy, which
states that if it costs more to charge requestors for records than it costs to
reproduce the records, the entity will waive copying charges. We estimate the
cost of processing copy fee payments by an entity at approximately $4 just for
labor. This estimate is based on the assumption that it takes approximately 20
minutes for an employee, averaging an hourly pay rate of approximately $12 $14, to make copies. Therefore charging for copies for amounts totaling less
than the $4, would be less costly to the entity if the copying fees were waived,
based on these assumptions. Entities are encouraged to assess their costs in
processing payments and develop their own thresholds as costs and time can
differ from one entity to another.
We prepared a simple analysis for determining when it is more cost effective to
waive copying charges for small records requests.
RCW 42.56.120 permits an agency to charge a maximum of 15 cents per
page unless that agency has established and published the actual costs
of copying. In the event the agency determines its own fee rate, the law
stipulates that it may not include amounts for “locating public documents and
making them available for copying.”
Nineteen of the 30 entities charged for records in at least one instance.
Because 15 of these 19 (79 percent) charged the standard 15 cents per page,
we opted to use this rate for our analysis.
We estimate it takes roughly 20 minutes of employee time to prepare and mail
an invoice and to receipt and record the subsequent payment. Developing
a conservative estimate, we used an hourly rate of $12.63 determined by
averaging the middle ranges (steps F and G) for an Office Assistant 1 ($11.91
and $12.18, respectively) and a Fiscal Technician 1 ($13.06 and $13.36,
respectively) as shown on the state’s Department of Personnel website.
The break-even calculation is shown as follows:
Break-even based on the number of pages provided (at $0.15 per copy):
$0.15x = $12.63 × (20 minutes ÷ 60 minutes)
x ≈ 28 pages
Determining the costs associates with processing payment for copies charged
by entities in establishing a “break-even” point:
x = $12.63 x (20 minutes ÷ 60 minutes)
x = $4.21
Conclusion: This analysis implies that it is inefficient to charge requestors for
requests of fewer than 28 pages when using the standard 15 cents per page.
Further, if total fees sought are less than $4.21, the costs associated with
processing the payment alone will likely not be recovered by the fees collected.
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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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•	 Using the installment method for large public records requests. The intent of the
installment method is to allow an entity to respond to requests without adversely
impacting its operations.
In 2005, the Legislature authorized agencies to ask requestors to pay deposits
on copying charges and to respond to records requests in installments. For
large records requests, a public entity may require a deposit of not more than
10 percent of the estimated cost of providing copies. If a public entity makes
a request available in installments, the entity may charge for each part of the
request as it is provided. If an installment is not claimed or reviewed, the public
entity is not obligated to fulfill the balance of the request. When considering using
the installment method, the entity should seek clarification from the requestor
because the information the requestor is seeking may not require the volume of
records originally requested. However, in any event, the entity should provide the
records in the most timely possible manner.
•	 Communicate the appeals process for records denials. If a public records request
is denied or the requestor believes records were improperly redacted, it is
important the entity provide the requestor information about the appeal process
available that would allow for an independent assessment of the denial. From
our analysis of the responses to our unannounced records requests and in our
interviews, we noted that some entities, as a matter of policy, do not inform the
requestor of their rights to appeal if a request is denied. The table below details
those entities who communicated the appeals process to the requestor in their
response.
•	 Documenting the request process. It is important for entities to set up a system
to create a record of the request. In the event a denied request is litigated,
documenting the process provides a paper trail of what happened with the
request. See finding 1 for the entities who told us they sent information but did
not keep a record of the communication.
Other best practices observed at the entities during the audit are presented
below:

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Best Practice
Description

Counties that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

Cities that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

State
agencies that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

Acknowledgement
and response were
concurrent

King County (7)
Pierce County (1)
Snohomish County
(3)
Spokane County (6)
Clark County (7)
Kitsap County (6)
Yakima County (5)
Thurston County (5)
Whatcom County (1)
Benton County (6)

City of Seattle (1)
City of Spokane (6)
City of Tacoma (3)
City of Vancouver (6)
City of Bellevue (5)
City of Everett (6)
City of Spokane
Valley (5)
City of Federal Way
(3)
City of Kent (1)
City of Yakima (5)

Dept. of Revenue (8)
Office of the
Insurance
Commissioner (6)
Dept. of Social and
Health Services (6)
Dept. of Labor and
Industries (2)
Washington State
Patrol (4)
Dept. of General
Administration (6)
Dept. of Corrections
(3)
Washington State
Lottery (7)
Office of Financial
Management (4)
Washington State
Investment Board (5)

Acknowledgement
informed requestor
request was being
forwarded for further
action.

King County (1)
Pierce County (6)
Snohomish County
(4)
Thurston County (2)
Whatcom County (6)
Benton County (1)

City of Tacoma (1)
City of Federal Way
(3)

Copy fees were
explicitly waived in
the response.

King County (2)
Spokane County (2)
Thurston County (1)
Whatcom County (1)

City of Yakima (3)

Dept. of Social and
Health Services (2)
Washington State
Investment Board (1)

Entity met estimated
time frame
provided in their
initial response for
providing records

King County (2)
Snohomish County
(4)
Spokane County (2)
Clark County (1)
Kitsap County (1)
Whatcom County (6)
Benton County (2)

City of Spokane (1)
City of Tacoma (1)
City of Vancouver (4)
City of Bellevue (4)
City of Everett (1)
City of Federal Way
(3)
City of Kent (7)
City of Yakima (2)

Office of the
Insurance
Commissioner (3)
Dept. of Social and
Health Services (3)
Dept. of Labor and
Industries (5)
Washington State
Patrol (5)
Office of Financial
Management (5)
Washington State
Investment Board (3)

City of Seattle (2)
City of Spokane (1)
City of Bellevue (1)
City of Spokane
Valley (2)
City of Federal Way
(1)

Dept. of Revenue (1)
Dept. of Social and
Health Services (2)
Dept. of Corrections
(1)
Office of Financial
Management (2)

Entity responded with King County (2)
a web page referral
Snohomish County
instead of copied
(1)
documents.

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

40

Best Practice
Description

Counties that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

Cities that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

State
agencies that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

Response Exceeded
Expectations

King County (3)
Pierce County (1)
Spokane County (2)
Kitsap County (1)
Thurston County (1)
Benton County (3)

City of Spokane (1)
City of Tacoma (1)
City of Vancouver (1)
City of Bellevue (1)

Dept. of Revenue (2)
Dept. of Social and
Health Services (1)
Dept. of Labor and
Industries (2)
Dept. of General
Administration (1)
Office of Financial
Management (1)
Washington State
Investment Board (1)

Customer Service –
Follow-up explicitly
to ensure records
previously provided
or records proposed
to be provided are
acceptable to the
requestor

King County (1)

City of Spokane
Valley (1)

Correspondence
provided excellent
detail of the status of
the request to assure
requestor the request
was being given the
highest priority

King County (1)
Snohomish County
(3)
Spokane County (1)
Yakima County (1)
Thurston County (1)
Benton County (1)

City of Spokane (1)
City of Tacoma (1)
City of Spokane
Valley (1)
City of Yakima (1)

Receipt was provided
to show payment
of copy fees was
received.

King County (1)
Pierce County (2)
Snohomish County
(1)
Kitsap County (2)
Whatcom County (1)

City of Tacoma (1)
City of Spokane (1)
City of Bellevue (1)
City of Spokane
Valley (1)
City of Federal Way
(2)
City of Kent (1)

Response provided
process for
appealing redactions
in the records
provided.

Kitsap County (1)

Entity uses an
On-Line Form for
requestors to use
to submit requests
on-line.

Thurston County

Entity uses a touch
screen in lobby to
direct the public
to where to obtain
public records

Kitsap County

Dept. of Corrections
(1)

Dept. of Social and
Health Services (2)
Dept. of Labor and
Industries (1)
Dept. of Corrections
(1)
City of Kent

Dept. of Revenue

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Best Practice
Description

Counties that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

Cities that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

State
agencies that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

Entity provided
requestor options
in the format of
the records to be
provided.

Whatcom County (1)

City of Bellevue (3)
City of Federal Way
(1)

Dept. of Social and
Health Services (1)
Washington State
Lottery (1)

Entity provided copy
of original request
with response.

Pierce County (3)
Snohomish County
(1)
Spokane County (1)
Clark County (7)
Kitsap County (1)
Thurston County (1)
Benton County (3)

City of Spokane (2)
City of Tacoma (2)
City of Vancouver (2)
City of Bellevue (1)
City of Everett (2)
City of Spokane
Valley (1)
City of Federal Way
(1)
City of Yakima (2)

Office of the
Insurance
Commissioner (1)
Dept. of Social and
Health Services (4)
Dept. of Labor and
Industries (1)
Dept. of General
Administration (3)
Dept. of Corrections
(1)

Entity provided
King County (1)
detailed summary
Spokane County (3)
of the documents
provided in response.

City of Vancouver (1)
City of Federal Way
(2)
City of Yakima (1)

Dept of Revenue (4)
Dept of Labor and
Industries (1)
Washington State
Investment Board (1)

Entity provided
options of different
records available to
ensure the requestor
obtains exactly what
they are looking for.

Pierce County (1)

City of Bellevue (1)
City of Spokane
Valley (1)

Washington State
Patrol (1)

Explanation provides
entity’s rationale
describing how the
response provided is
consistent with the
letter of the request.

King County (4)
Pierce County (2)
Snohomish County
(2)
Spokane County (2)
Clark County (2)
Yakima County (1)
Thurston County (2)
Benton County (1)

City of Spokane (3)
City of Tacoma (6)
City of Vancouver (4)
City of Bellevue (2)
City of Everett (1)
City of Spokane
Valley (3)
City of Federal Way
(1)
City of Yakima (1)

Dept. of Revenue (6)
Dept. of Labor and
Industries (1)
Dept. of General
Administration (5)
Washington State
Lottery (1)
Washington State
Investment Board (2)

Response provides
detail of entity’s
program to inform
the requestor and
establish a basis for
expectation of the
records provided.

King County (2)
Pierce County (1)
Spokane County (1)
Kitsap County (1)
Whatcom County (1)

City of Everett (1)

Dept. of Revenue (1)
Dept. of General
Administration (1)
Washington State
Investment Board (1)

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Best Practice
Description

Counties that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

Cities that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

State
agencies that
demonstrated
best practices
identified
(number of
occurrences
observed)

Entity restates the
letter of the request
in their response.

King County (7)
Pierce County (8)
Snohomish County
(8)
Spokane County (5)
Kitsap County (5)
Yakima County (2)
Thurston County (2)
Whatcom County (3)
Benton County (5)

City of Seattle (7)
City of Spokane (5)
City of Tacoma (6)
City of Vancouver (8)
City of Bellevue (8)
City of Everett (5)
City of Spokane
Valley (6)
City of Federal Way
(6)
City of Kent (7)
City of Yakima (3)

Dept. of Revenue (8)
Office of the
Insurance
Commissioner (4)
Dept. of Social and
Health Services (9)
Dept. of Labor and
Industries (7)
Washington State
Patrol (9)
Dept. of General
Administration (8)
Dept. of Corrections
(6)
Washington State
Lottery (6)
Office of Financial
Management (1)
Washington State
Investment Board (8)

City of Kent (1)

Washington State
Patrol (2)

Signed affidavit
from the Requestor
acknowledging the
documents provided
will not be used
for commercial
purposes.
Entity numbered
the pages provided
to ensure all pages
were provided in
response.
Entity included
reason for redactions
directly on the copies
where each redaction
was applied.

42

Dept of Corrections
(1)

City of Yakima (2)

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Appendix A – Results by County and Responses
About King County
With a population of more than 1.8 million people, King County is the most populous
county in Washington and the 12th most populous in the United States. The County
Council is the policy making body of the County. The Council has nine elected
members who serve full time.
The County’s public records process is decentralized. The County has at least
one public records officer for each department. The County relies on individual
departments to process and respond to their own requests. The following
departments or offices were included in our audit:
•	 Human Resources Department
•	 County Executive’s Office
•	 Department of Transportation
•	 Finance and Business Operations
•	 Sheriff’s Office
•	 Office of Business Relations and Economic Development

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

King County

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received
Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity
Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer
Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor
Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Entity did not accept the format of the
request

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared to Average for Counties

King County

Response time versus average for counties

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

12
5 6

10

7

5 6

3

8

9

5

0 0
Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

7

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request
to another department within the entity

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

16
11
8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

2 2
Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

44

Average business days for all counties

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

King County’s Response

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Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

46

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Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About Pierce County
Pierce County serves approximately 790,500 residents. The elected, seven-member
County Council is the policy-setting legislative body of the County.
The County’s public records process is decentralized. The County has at least one
public records officer for each department. The County relies on the individual
departments to process and respond to requests received. The following
departments or offices were included in our audit:
•	
Public Works – Transportation Services
•	
Human Resources Department
•	
Budget and Finance Department
•	
County Executive’s Office
•	
Sheriff’s Office

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

Pierce County

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received
Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity
Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received
Entity did not accept the format of the
request

48

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer
Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor
Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared to Average for Counties

Pierce County

Response time versus average for counties

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

6 6
0 0

Entity did not accept the format of the
request; (E-mail) SPAM filter suspected

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

19

17 16
10

11

10
6

8
5

3

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

7

8
5
1 2

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all counties

49

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Pierce County’s Response

50

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Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

51

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About Snohomish County
Snohomish County has a population of approximately 686,300. County voters elect a
five-member County Council and a County Executive.
The County’s public records process is centralized. The County’s Public Records
Officer is located in the Department of Information Services/Technology Department.
County departments have at least one public records designee or coordinator. The
County relies on department coordinators to process and respond to requests. The
following departments or offices were included in our audit:
•	 Centralized Information Desk (Clerk’s Office)
•	 Sheriff’s Office

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

Snohomish County

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the
Entity responded with incomplete or
Responsiveness
– 10 Requests - Compared
to Average for Counties
request, no response received

insufficient records

Snohomish County

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

22
Response received in
40 minutes

16

14
10

5 6
0 0

0

3

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

22

6

4
Travel
Vouchers

8

7
3

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

8
5

Entity response was issued, but not
received by the requestor

Number of Business Days

Entity did not accept the format
of the
Response
time versus average for counties
request
(Based on response to initial request for records)

Information Out of State Employee
Phone
Technology
Travel
Recognition Directory
Director Job
Awards
Description

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

52

2

Average business days for all counties

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Snohomish County’s Response

53

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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54

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About Spokane County
Spokane County is the fourth most populous county in the state, with an estimated
451,200 residents. The County’s executive, legislative and policy-making body is the
elected, three-member Board of Commissioners.
The County’s public records process is centralized. The County’s Public Records
Officer is located in the County’s Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Each department has
at least one public records coordinator. The County relies on individual departments
to process and respond to requests. The following departments or offices were
included in our audit:
•	 Public Records Officer – Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
•	 Human Resources Department
•	 County Auditor’s Office
•	 Sheriff’s Office

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

Spokane County

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly
the - Compared
Entity responded
with incomplete
or
Responsiveness
– 10process
Requests
to Average
for Counties
request, no response received

insufficient records

Spokane County

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

18
10
4
0 0

6
2 3

5

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Travel
Harassment
Highest
Vouchers
Policy
Paid
Employees

4

6

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

5

10

8

Vacation
Records

16

7

15
8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Number of Business Days

Entity did not accept the format
of the
Response
time versus average for counties
(Based
on response to initial request for records)
request

2

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all counties

55

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Spokane County’s Response

56

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57

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About Clark County
Clark County’s population is approximately 415,000. The County is administered by
an elected, three-member Board of Commissioners.
The County’s public records process is centralized. The County’s Public Records
Officer is the County Administrator located in the Commissioner’s Office. Departments
have at least one public records coordinator, for a total of 27 coordinators. The
County relies on department coordinators to process and respond to requests. The
following departments or offices were included in our audit:
•	 County Commissioner’s Office
•	 County Auditor’s Office

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

Clark County

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Entity did not accept the format of the

Responsiveness
– 10 Requests - Compared to Average for Counties
request

Clark County

Response time versus average for counties

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

9 10
6
1 0

2

6 6
1

3

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

8
5
Vacation
Records

5

7

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

16
7 8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

2 2
Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

58

Average business days for all counties

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Clark County’s Response

59

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60

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About Kitsap County
Kitsap County’s population is approximately 244,800. The County is governed by an
elected, three-member Board of Commissioners.
The County’s public records process is de-centralized. The Public Records Officer is
located in the County’s Department of Administration Office. Each department has at
least one public records coordinator. The County relies on the individual departments
to assist the Public Records Officer in gathering information related to requests. We
directed our requests to the County Commissioner’s Office.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 8 out of 10 Requests

Kitsap County

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

2
8

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Entity did not accept the format of the
request

Responsiveness – 10 Requests – Compared to Average for Counties

Kitsap County

Response time versus average for counties

29

8

6
0 0

2

10
3

2 3

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

8

6

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

3
Vacation
Records

16
8

7
4

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

2

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all counties

61

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Kitsap County’s Response

62

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About Yakima County
Yakima County’s population is approximately 234,200 residents. The County is
administered by an elected, three-member Board of Commissioners.
The County’s public records process is centralized. The County’s Public Records
Officer is located in the County’s Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Departments have at
least one public records coordinator. The County relies on individual departments to
gather records in response to requests. The following departments or offices were
included in our audit:
•	 Public Records Officer – Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
•	 Human Resources Department
•	 County Commissioner’s Office
•	 Sheriff’s Office

Conforming responses to the initial request – 5 out of 10 Requests

Yakima County

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
4

Sufficient response received
Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity
Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

5

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer
Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor
Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Entity did not accept the format of the
request

63

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared to Average for Counties

Yakima County

Response time versus average for counties

9 10
6

5

3

0 0
Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

6

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

8
5

Vacation
Records

7

16
8 8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

14

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity responded with insufficient
records; more sufficient records existed
Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

64

2

Average business days for all counties

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Yakima County’s Response

65

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About Thurston County
Thurston County’s population is approximately 238,000 residents and is administered
by an elected, three-member Board of Commissioners.
The County’s public records process is decentralized. The County has at least one
public records officer for each elected officials’ office and relies on individual offices
to process and respond to requests. These offices establish their own policies and
procedures. The following offices were included in our audit:
•	 County Commissioner’s Office
•	 County Auditor’s Office
•	 Sheriff’s Office

Conforming responses to the initial request – 8 out of 10 Requests

Thurston County

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

2
8

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the

Entity responded with incomplete or

Responsiveness
– 10
Requests - Compared
to records
Average for Counties
request, no response
received
insufficient

Thurston County
Entity did not accept the format of the
Response time versus average for counties
request

15
10

10
6

7 6

4 3

0 0
Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

8
5

Vacation
Records

7

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the
request to another department within the entity

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the
request to another department within the entity

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

16
8
5

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

4

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

66

2

Average business days for all counties

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Correspondence – Thurston County Commissioners

67

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68

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69

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Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

70

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Thurston County’s Response

71

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Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

72

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About Whatcom County
Whatcom County’s population is approximately 188,300 residents. The County is
governed by a seven-member, elected County Council.
The County’s public records process is centralized. The County’s Public Records
Officer is located in the County’s Administrative Services’ Department. Departments
have at least one public records coordinator. The County relies on individual
departments to gather records in response to requests. The County’s only Public
Records Officer position was our primary point of contact during our audit.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

Whatcom County

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Responsiveness
– 10
Entity did not accept
theRequests
format of the- Compared to Average for Counties
request

Whatcom County

Response time versus average for counties

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

6
3
0 0

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

15 16
8

10
4

3

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

6

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

7 8

10
6 7

8
2 2

Vacation
Records

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all counties

73

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Whatcom County’s Response

74

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

75

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About Benton County
Benton County‘s population is approximately 162,900. Three elected commissioners
administer the County.
The County’s public records process is decentralized. The County has at least
one public records officer for each department. The County relies on individual
departments to process and respond to requests. The following departments or
offices were included in our audit:
•	 County Commissioner’s Office
•	 County Personnel Resources Department
•	 Public Works Department
•	 Planning and Building Department
•	 Sheriff’s Office

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

Benton County

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received
Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity
Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received
Entity did not accept the format of the
request

76

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer
Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor
Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared to Average for Counties

Benton County

Response time versus average for counties

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

10
6
0 0

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

16
12

10
6

3

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

7 8

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

7
4

3
Vacation
Records

4

6

8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

1 2
Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all counties

77

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Benton County’s Response

78

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Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

79

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Appendix B – Results by City and Responses
About City of Seattle
The City of Seattle is the largest city in Washington, with a population of
approximately 586,200. It has a mayor-council form of government with nine elected
Council Members, an elected Mayor and an elected City Attorney.
The City’s public records process is decentralized. The City has at least one public
records officer for each department. The City relies on individual departments to
process and respond to requests. The following departments or offices were included
in our audit:
•	 City Clerk’s Office (oversight of Officers on the Legislative Branch)
•	 Mayor’s Office (oversight of Officers on the Executive Branch)
•	 Police Department
•	 Personnel Department
•	 Information Technology Department

Conforming responses to the initial request – 2 out of 10 Requests

City of Seattle

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

2

1
7

Sufficient response received
Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity
Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received
Entity did not accept the format of the
request

80

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer
Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor
Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Number of Business Days

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0
0 1
Entity directed requestor to resubmit the
request to another department within the entity

7
Entity did not accept the format of the
request; (E-mail) SPAM filter suspected

2

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the
request to another department within the entity

9

Travel
Vouchers

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the
request to another department within the entity

Business days to obtain record

7

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the
request to another department within the entity

5

Vacation
Records

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the
request to another department within the entity

5
Entity directed requestor to resubmit the
request to another department within the entity

16
Entity directed requestor to resubmit the
request to another department within the entity

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared to Average for Cities
Response time versus average for cities

City of Seattle

(Based on response to initial request for records)

8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

2 3

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Average business days for all cities

81

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

City of Seattle’s letter of March 31, 2008

82

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83

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84

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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City of Seattle’s Response

Gregory J. Nickels
Mayor of Seattle

April 21, 2008
Chris Cortines, CPA
Washington State Auditor
Insurance Building, P.O. Box 40021
Olympia, WA 98504-0021
cortinec@sao.wa.gov
Dear Mr. Cortines,
RE: Public Records Performance Audit Draft Report – Comments on Final Draft
As we discussed in our earlier technical comments as well as our exit interview last week we feel
the audit presents an incorrect and unfair portrayal of the city’s practices. The city of Seattle
takes our public disclosure responsibilities very seriously and although you curiously chose not
to note this in the audit, it is reflected in our performance.
In finding one, entities were considered non-responsive if the requestor was directed to another
department to submit their request. According to this standard, Seattle was cited as completely
non-responsive in 7 out of 10 requests. The audit itself does not explain the rationale for
considering this practice as non-responsive, but during the exit interview your office explained
that you decided mid-audit that internal as opposed to external redirects were considered to be
better customer service for the average requestor. This one-size-fits-all approach does not work
for our entity. Just as requests differ, so do the methods for providing fullest assistance.
The audit charts the city of Seattle’s performance according to the number of business days it
took to respond to each request (page 88). In the cases where the auditor received a response that
included the contact name for the appropriate department, the audit does not include the actual
city response. In fact it inaccurately shows the city as non-responsive.
As we communicated during the exit interview, the City redirected the requests in order to
provide the records more rapidly. We have attached a chart that shows the actual results for 10
requests you submitted to the city. We have included the average days it took cities to respond
and the actual business days it took the city of Seattle to respond once the request reached the
right agency. We ask that this chart be included in the Final Audit Report in order to accurately
reflect that the City of Seattle responded to the redirected requests.

Seattle City Hall, 7th Floor, 600 Fourth Avenue, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749
Tel: (206) 684-4000, FAX: (206) 684-5360, www.seattle.gov/mayor
An equal employment opportunity, affirmative action employer. Accommodations for people with disabilities provided upon request.

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We appreciate the opportunity this audit has provided to examine our procedures for responding
to records requests. We believe that it was appropriate to redirect the audit’s requests by sending
the contact name of the appropriate public disclosure officer. However, we realize this could
have been achieved more expeditiously by a phone call or an email to the requestor right away
rather than a formal post office letter mailed after 5 days. This is a more typical practice in line
with normal city procedures and will be included more specifically in our trainings and policies
as a result of the audit.
Attached is the corrected chart of city response to the ten anonymous requests as well as a copy
of the technical comments we submitted on March 31st. We would like to see both included in
the final audit.
Respectfully,

Nancy Craver, Strategic Advisor
Mayor’s Office
nancy.craver@seattle.gov

Cc:

Nestor Newman, CPA, Washington State Auditor’s Office
Tom Bernard, CPA, Washington State Auditor’s Office

600 Fourth Avenue, 12th Floor, Seattle, WA 98104-1873
Tel: (206) 684-4000, TDD: (206) 615-0476, FAX: (206) 684-5360, www.seattle.gov/mayor
An equal employment opportunity, affirmative action employer. Accommodations for people with disabilities provided upon request.

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City of Seattle – Review of Final Performance Audit on Public Records
30

24

25

19

20

18

0

0

0

Clerk

Personnel

Clerk

Sexual
Harassment
Policy

2005 Top 5
Highest Paid
Emp

Travel Policy

1

2a

2b

3

3

Non-compliant due to re-direct

4

5

Non-compliant due to re-direct

1

2

5

Non-compliant due to re-direct

5

7

Non-compliant due to re-direct

7

9

Non-compliant due to re-direct

10

Non-compliant due to re-direct

Non-compliant due to re-direct

15

Non-ccompliant block as SPAM

16

8

0
Mayor
Travel
Cell Phone
Vouchers f or Records f or
SDOT
Tim Ceis
director
3a

3b

Average
Days
Actual
City
Days
Audit

3
1

Finance

DoIt

Police

Personnel

Clerk

Vacation
Records f or
Director of
Finance

Job
Description
f or Director
of IT

Out of State
Travel f or
Chief of
Police

Expenditures
f or Emp
Recognition
Aw ards

Phone
Directory

3c

3d

3e

3f

3g

1

Sexual Harassment
Policy

Clerk

2a

Five Highest Paid Emp

Personnel

2b

Travel Policy

Clerk

3a

Travel Vouchers for
SDOT director

3b

Cell Phone Records for
Tim Ceis

Mayor

3c

Vacation Records for
Director of Finance

Finance

Finance office received request on Monday and
sent records Thursday.

3d

Job Description for
Director of DoIT
Out of State Travel for
Chief of Police
Expenditures for Emp
Recognition Awards
Phone Directory

DoIT

DoIT received request on Tuesday and sent
records on Friday.
City provided records within the estimated time
frame.
City provided records within the estimated time
frame.
Clerk received request on Monday, sent records
on Tuesday.

3e
3f
3g

Police
Personnel
Clerk

Walk-in request handled by Clerk's Office.
They took requestor's name and replied the
same day.
Request was internally forwarded by clerk to
Personnel who acknowledged and sent
estimate in 2 days.
This request was never received by the city.
Email request sent back as undeliverable.*
At this point, auditor had changed methodology
and did not re-send the request to the
department given to them in the response.
Mayor's office received request on Monday and
sent records on Friday.

* Of more than 5M messages that were addressed to domains managed by the City, only 2.2
M of these were addressed to valid addresses. Of that number, 14% were delivered, 76.5%
were blocked as SPAM, and 9.5% were quarantined.

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About City of Spokane
The City of Spokane is the second largest city in the state with a population of
approximately 202,900. Voters elect a Mayor and a seven-member City Council.
The City’s public records process is decentralized as the City has three public records
officers at the City Clerk’s Office, the Police Department and the Municipal Court. The
City Clerk relies on individual departments to gather records in response to requests.
The following departments or offices were included in our audit:
•	 City Clerk’s Office
•	 Police Department

Conforming responses to the initial request – 8 out of 10 Requests

City of Spokane

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1

1

8

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Entity did not accept the format of the

Responsiveness
– 10 Requests - Compared to Average for Cities
request

City of Spokane

Response time versus average for cities

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Entity responded with insufficient
records; initial web site did not
provide requested record

5
0 1

16
9

7

9

7

6 5

5 5

1 2

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

16
7 8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

1

3

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all cities

89

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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City of Spokane’s Response

90

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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91

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About City of Tacoma
The City of Tacoma’s population is approximately 201,700 people in Pierce
County. The City operates under a council-manager form of government, with nine
independently elected Council Members, including the Mayor. The Council Members
elect a Deputy Mayor. The City Manager is appointed by the City Council and is
responsible for day-to-day operations of the City.
The City’s public records process is decentralized. The City has two public records
officers, one for general government and the other for utilities. The City Clerk relies
on individual departments to gather records in response to requests. We directed our
records requests to the Public Records Officer in the City Clerk’s Department.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 10 out of 10 Requests

City of Tacoma

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

10

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
Entity response was drafted or issued,
Responsiveness
to Average
Cities
within the entity – 10 Requests - Compared
but not received
by thefor
requestor

Tacoma
Entity did not correctly process the City ofEntity
responded with incomplete or
Response time versus average for cities
request, no response received(Based on response toinsufficient
records
initial request for records)
40

Number of Business Days

40 did not accept the format of the
Entity
request
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

16

7 7
0 1

7
2 2

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

10

9

Travel
Vouchers

4

7

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

3

5

Vacation
Records

5

7

8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

92

Average business days for all cities

2 3
Phone
Directory

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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City of Tacoma’s Response

93

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About City of Vancouver
The City of Vancouver’s population is more than 160,800 people in Clark County. The
City is administered by a mayor-council form of government with a council-appointed
City Manager.
The City’s public records process is centralized. The City’s Public Records Officer
is located in the City’s Central Records Department. The Officer relies on individual
departments to gather records in response to requests. Our primary point of contact
was the Public Records Officer.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 10 out of 10 Requests

City of Vancouver

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

10

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
Entity response was drafted or issued,
within the entity – 10 Requests - Compared
but not received
by thefor
requestor
Responsiveness
to Average
Cities
Entity did not correctly process the
Entity responded with incomplete or
City of Vancouver
request, no response received
insufficient
records
Response time versus
average for
cities
(Based on response to initial request for records)

Number of Business Days

Entity did not accept the format of the
40
request

35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

16
13
9

6 7
0 1

7

6

8
5 5

1 2

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

5
2

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

3

5

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

2 3
Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all cities

95

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

City of Vancouver’s Response

96

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About City of Bellevue
The City of Bellevue’s population is approximately 118,100 people in King County.
The City operates under a council-manager form of government with seven elected
Council Members, one of whom is selected by the Council to serve as Mayor for a
two-year term.
The City’s public records process is centralized. The City’s Public Records Officer is
located in the City Clerk’s Department. The Officer relies on individual departments to
gather records in response to requests.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 10 out of 10 Requests

City of Bellevue

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

10

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
Entity response was drafted or issued,
within
the
entity
but not received
by thefor
requestor
Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared
to Average
Cities
Entity did not correctly process the
Entity responded with incomplete or
City of insufficient
Bellevue records
request, no response received
Response time versus average for cities
(Based on response to initial request for records)

Number of Business Days

Entity did not accept the format of the
40
request

35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

21
16
8 9

6 7
0 1

10
6 7

7

5

1 2

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
(Request 2b)
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

8

5
2

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

2 3
Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all counties

97

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

City of Bellevue’s Response

2007-2008 SAO Performance Audit Exit Items
with City of Bellevue Response
April 22, 2008

Finding 2: Some entities do not accommodate a variety of public records requests and therefore
do not provide the public with fullest assistance….
The following entities [list included Bellevue] provide records request forms on their Web sites,
but do not allow those forms to be submitted through their Web sites.
Response: We are in the process of implementing an Electronic Content
Management System (ECM), and a future phase planned for early 2008 will include the
opportunity for requestors to submit a variety of different types of electronic documents
and/or forms, including public disclosure requests, to the City via our web site.
Requestors currently have the ability to download our form and return it to the City in a
variety of ways including: FAX, Pdf (scanned and sent via email), regular mail, and drop
in. We also accept public disclosure requests in person, by email, and over the telephone,
and send the requestor a confirming letter or email documenting the request.
Finding 3: Some entities did not provide complete and satisfactory explanations for redactions
of public records and some records were improperly redacted…. We received 43 records with
acceptable redactions, 11 of which did not cite the specific legal exemption for the redactions, as
required by the Act. [list of 11 entities that did not cite the exemption included Bellevue]
Response: As a result of this performance audit comment, we have placed a focus on
providing appropriate explanations for redactions of public records in our internal training
for handling non-routine requests. In addition to our Public Records Officer’s oversight of
the public disclosure process, we are now utilizing a 75% temporary employee dedicated to
coordinating all administrative aspects of our process to provide greater quality control
and consistency in handling/documenting responses to requests, including performing
redactions.
Finding 4: Some entities provided the requested public records in a less timely manner than
their peers….

Entity

Request

City of Bellevue

Out-of-state
travel

Actual
Response
Time (business
days)
21

Average
Business Days
Response Time
for entity type
16

Reason(s) communicated or
explanations observed at the
time records were sent to the
requestor
The entity provided the
status of the request during
processing. The response
appears to have been
delayed due to the large
number of records (105
pages) gathered, which took
14 business days.

….The results of our analysis of the unannounced requests disclosed that responses with

records containing redactions took an average of 13.3 days versus 5.7 days for records without
redactions.

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Response: As noted on page 12 of the draft performance audit report, the City responded
“quicker than average” on seven of the ten audit requests. The specific request that is
reflected in this Audit comment called for travel vouchers for the City’s Police Chief over a
twelve month period spanning two calendar years (the “Methodology” section on page 9 of
the Audit Report suggests that records were sought for only six months). When the
request was received, six months worth of these records had already been sent to off-site
storage.
The following table documents communications between the City’s Records Officer and the
requestor:
December 29, 2006
January 3, 2007
January 4
January 18
January 19
January 19
January 25
January 31
January 31

Request sent
Request received by City
City’s initial response by email that records would be made
available on or before January 31
City’s response by voicemail offering opportunity to view
records when assembly/processing completed
Email received from requestor asking that records be mailed to
him
City’s response by return email indicating records would be
available approximately January 24
City’s email response that records were now available and
documenting copying/mailing costs
Receipt by City of payment for copying/mailing costs
Records mailed to requestor

The records required considerable Police Department staff time to assemble, Legal review
to approve exemptions/redactions, considerable time to execute redaction of City credit
card and personal information, and significant “transit” time via regular mail.
The Attorney General’s Model Rules recognize that while providing public records is an
essential function of an agency, it is not required to abandon its other essential functions in
order to fulfill public records requests. Agencies are encouraged to be flexible and process
as many requests as possible even if they are addressed out of order. As identified above,
the City spent significant time responding to this request and communicated regularly
with the requestor on the status of his request. The request was completed within the
estimated timeframe.
Also noted previously, the City has invested in an ECM system that is being integrated
with our Finance/HR system, which should significantly reduce the amount of time
required in future to assemble records that are responsive to this type of request.
Best Practices identified during the Audit…
x Visible signage. Entities where visible signage was observed by those who submitted our
walk-in requests were: (list of 2 Counties, 2 cities, and DGA; Bellevue not listed)
Response: At all public entrances to City Hall, prominent electronic signage and a floor
plan identify the Public Records Center located on the first floor of City Hall (the City’s
website also directs requestors to the Records Center). Visible signage is provided both on
the counter of the Records Center as well as in the Center’s “Public Reading Room” where
public disclosure responses are made available for viewing by requestors. Auditor’s
Office representatives made their request for the City’s sexual harassment policy at the
Service First counter, which is a few steps away from the Records Center.

99

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About City of Everett
The City of Everett’s population is approximately 101,800 citizens in Snohomish
County. The City is administered by a mayor-council form of government with seven,
elected Council Members and an independently elected Mayor.
The City’s public records process is centralized. The City’s Public Records Officer
is located in the City Clerk’s Department. The Officer relies on the individual
departments to gather records in response to requests. The Public Records Officer
was our primary point of contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 8 out of 10 Requests

City of Everett

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1

1

8

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Entity did not accept the format of the

City of Everett

Response time versus average for cities
(Based on response to initial request for records)

6 7
2 1

9
2

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

4
Travel
Vouchers

7
3
May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

9
5
Vacation
Records

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Number of Business Days

Responsiveness
– 10 Requests - Compared to Average for Cities
request

16

5

5

6

8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

100

Average business days for all cities

8
3
Phone
Directory

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

City of Everett’s Response
Dear Tom,
Thank you for the performance audit report regarding public disclosure.
We have implemented the following changes in the way we process public disclosure
requests based upon points brought forth in your report.
•	 We are responding to the requestor that we have received his/her request
immediately upon receipt of the request, even if we will be filling that request
within the five day timeframe.
•	 We are collecting fees prior to the release of records.
•	 We will not be collecting fees for the minimum amounts per your report.
It is noted that one redaction was missing an explanation. It is not our normal
practice to omit the explanation for redaction, but in this case it was a credit card
account number and the explanation wasn’t verbalized. We continue to try to educate
all employees of the city regarding requests for records via our employee toolkit
class and one on one supervision.
We will look forward to seeing you tomorrow.
Sincerely,
CITY OF EVERETT
Sharon Marks
City Clerk

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About City of Spokane Valley
The City of Spokane Valley’s population is approximately 88,280 in Spokane County.
The City operates under a council-manager form of government. Voters elect a
seven-member City Council, which then appoints one member as Mayor and another
member as Deputy Mayor.
The City’s public records process is centralized. The Public Records Officer is located
in the City Clerk’s Department. The Officer relies on the individual departments to
gather records in response to requests. The Public Records Officer was our primary
point of contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 10 out of 10 Requests

City of Spokane Valley
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

10

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
Entity response was drafted or issued,
within
the
entity
but not received
by the for
requestor
Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared
to Average
Cities
Entity did not correctly process the
Entity responded with incomplete or
City of Spokane
Valley
request, no response receivedResponse time versus
insufficient
averagerecords
for cities
(Based on response to initial request for records)

Number of Business Days

Entity did not accept the format of the
40
request

35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

16

0 1

1

10

9

7

5
1 2

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

7
3
May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

3

5

Vacation
Records

3

5

8

2

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

102

Average business days for all cities

1

3

Phone
Directory

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

City of Spokane Valley’s Response
The City of Spokane Valley opted to not submit a response to the audit.

103

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About City of Federal Way
The City of Federal Way’s population is approximately 87,390 citizens in King County
and operates under a council-manager form of government with seven elected
Council Members. The Council elects one member each to serve as Mayor and
Deputy Mayor for two-year terms. The City Manager is appointed by the Council and
is responsible for day-to-day operations of the City.
The City’s public records process is centralized as the City’s Public Records Officer is
located in the City Clerk’s Department. The Officer relies on individual departments to
gather records in response to requests. The Public Records Officer was our primary
point of contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

City of Federal Way

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the

Entity responded with incomplete or

Responsiveness
– 10
Requests - Compared
torecords
Average for Cities
request, no response
received
insufficient
Entity did not accept the format ofCity
the of Federal Way
Response time versus average for cities
request

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

35

5
0 1

7

Entity response was issued, but not
received by the requestor

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

19

16
9

10

5
2

2

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

9 8

7

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

4 5
Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

104

Average business days for all cities

3 3
Phone
Directory

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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City of Federal Way’s Response

105

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106

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107

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About City of Kent
The City of Kent’s population is approximately 86,660 people in King County. An
independently elected Mayor and seven elected Council Members administer the City.
The City’s public records process is centralized. The City’s Public Records Officer is
located in the City Clerk’s Department and relies on individual departments to gather
records in response to requests. The Public Records Officer was our primary point of
contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

City of Kent

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Entity did not accept the format of the

Responsiveness
– 10 Requests - Compared to Average for Cities
request

City of Kent

Response time versus average for cities

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Entity responded with incomplete
or insufficient records; redactions
applied to records rendered them
unusable

20

11
7

7
1

7
4

2
Travel
Vouchers

16
10

9

5

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

14

13

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

3

5

Vacation
Records

5

8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

108

Average business days for all cities

3 3
Phone
Directory

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

City of Kent’s Response

109

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110

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111

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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112

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Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

113

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

About City of Yakima
The City of Yakima has a population of approximately 82,940 in Yakima County. The
City Council consists of seven elected Council Members. The Council chooses the
Mayor every two years from within its own membership.
The City’s public records process is centralized. The City’s Public Records Officer
is located in the City Clerk’s Department. The Officer relies on the individual
departments to gather records in response to requests. The Public Records Officer
was our primary point of contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 10 out of 10 Requests

City of Yakima

Responsiveness to 10 Requests

10

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
Entity response was drafted or issued,
Responsiveness
to Average
Cities
within the entity – 10 Requests - Compared
but not received
by thefor
requestor

Yakima
Entity did not correctly process the City ofEntity
responded with incomplete or
Response time versus
average for
cities
request, no response received
insufficient
records
(Based on response to initial request for records)

Number of Business Days

Entity
40 did not accept the format of the
request

35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

16
8

7 7
0 1

9

7 7

8

8
5

2 2

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

4 5

8
4

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

114

Average business days for all cities

2 3
Phone
Directory

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

City of Yakima’s Response

115

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Appendix C – Results by State Agency and Responses
About Office of Insurance Commissioner
The Office of the Insurance Commissioner is responsible for regulating the insurance
business in Washington. The Insurance Commissioner is elected by voters to four-year
terms. The Office employs approximately 200 people in Tumwater, Seattle, Spokane and
Olympia.
The public records process is centralized with one Public Records Officer who relies on
division coordinators to assist in gathering records in response to requests. The Public
Records Officer was our primary point of contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

Office of Insurance Commissioner
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Entity did not accept
theRequests
format of the- Compared to Average for State
Responsiveness
– 10
request

Office of Insurance Commissioner

Response time versus average for other state agencies

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Entity responded with
incomplete records;
one page missing

12

13

13
9

7
3

5

4
Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

8

7
3

2

0

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

9

8

11

8

6

4

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

1
Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

116

Average business days for all agencies

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Office of Insurance Commissioner’s Response

117

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About Washington State Investment Board
The Washington State Investment Board was created in 1981 to establish investment
policies and procedures designed to maximize return on the state’s investments at
a prudent level of risk. The Board manages investments for 14 retirement funds for
public employees, teachers, school employees, law enforcement officers, firefighters
and judges. The Board also manages investments for 19 other public funds that
support or benefit industrial insurance, colleges and universities, developmental
disabilities and wildlife protection.
The public records process is centralized. The Agency has one public records officer
in the Public Affairs office, who was our primary point of contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 8 out of 10 Requests

Washington State Investment Board
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1

1
8

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Entity did not accept
theRequests
format of the- Compared to Average for State
Responsiveness
– 10
request

Washington State Investment Board

Response time versus average for other state agencies

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Entity responded with
insufficient records; initial
web site did not provide
requested record

10

0 0

12

Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

19
13

15
9

8
4

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

4
Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

6 7

6

8

8 8

6
2

Vacation
Records

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Phone
Directory

Request Description

120

Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all agencies

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Washington State Investment Board’s Response

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About Department of Revenue1
The Department of Revenue collects taxes, administers programs to fund public
services and develops tax policy in conjunction. The Agency collects approximately
$14.2 billion in state taxes and $2.4 billion in local taxes each year from more than
460,000 registered businesses.
The Agency’s public records process is centralized. The Public Records Officer is
located in the Taxpayer Services Division and relies on individual divisions to gather
records in response to requests. The Public Records Officer was our primary point of
contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 10 out of 10 Requests

Department of Revenue
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

10

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
Entity response was drafted or issued,
Responsiveness
– 10 Requests - Compared
to Average for State
within the entity
but not received by the requestor

Department
of Revenue
Entity did not correctly process
the
Entity
responded with incomplete or
for other records
state agencies
request, no responseResponse
receivedtime versus average
insufficient
(Based on response to initial request for records)

Number of Business Days

Entity
40 did not accept the format of the
request

35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

26

13

12
9
6

12
8 8

8 9

7 7

4

6

8

8

8

6

0 0
Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all agencies

1	
The response for all state agencies under the purview of the Governor is contained
at the end of this chapter.
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About Department of Social and Health Services
The Department is divided into five administrations: Health and Recovery Services,
Economic Services, Aging and Disability Services, Juvenile Rehabilitation Services and
Children’s Services. The Health and Recovery Services Administration, which includes
the Medicaid Program, which accounts for more than half of the Department’s total
budget.
The Department spends approximately $9 billion a year, about one-third of the state
budget.
The public records process is centralized. The agency has one Public Records Officer
who coordinates the efforts of close to 300 persons involved in public records
disclosure across all programs and field offices, with about 36 employees who are
primarily dedicated to this function and over 250 who are regularly involved as part of
their assigned duties. The Public Records Officer was our primary point of contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 10 out of 10 Requests

Department of Social & Health Services
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

10

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another
Entity response
was drafted
or issued,
Responsiveness
– 10department
Requests - Compared
to Average
for State
within the entity
but not received by the requestor

Department of Social & Health Services

Entity did not correctlyResponse
processtime
the versus average
Entityforresponded
incomplete or
other state with
agencies
initial request forrecords
records)
request, no response received(Based on response toinsufficient

40

Number of Business Days

Entity did not accept the format of the
35
request

30
25
20
15
10
5
0

19

17
14

13

12

8
0 0

2

4

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

5
Travel
Vouchers

9

5
May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

7
3

Vacation
Records

8

8
4

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

6
3
Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all agencies

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About Department of Labor and Industries
The Department of Labor and Industries works to help employers meet safety and
health standards and inspects workplaces for hazards. The Department administers
the state’s Workers’ Compensation System, which provides medical and limited wage
replacement coverage to workers with job-related injuries and illness. The Department
also regulates self-insured employers, provides financial and medical help to victims
of violent crime, conducts electrical elevator and boiler inspections, registers
construction contractors, issues licenses and enforces prevailing wage regulations.
The Department’s public records process is centralized. It has one Public Records
Officer who relies on the efforts of a Public Records Manager, a Legal Services
Program Manager and five Forms and Records Analysis workers to compile and
review records in response to requests. The Department has numerous points of
contact, but the Public Records Officer was our primary point of contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 9 out of 10 Requests

Department of Labor & Industries
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1
9

Sufficient response received
Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity
Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received
Entity did not accept the format of the
request

124

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer
Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor
Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared to Average for State

Department of Labor & Industries

Response time versus average for other state agencies

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Entity provided incorrect response and sent
requestor to another agency for assistance

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

14 13

13 12

14
7 8

0

2

10 9
5

4

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

7

6

8

9 8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

6

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all agencies

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About Washington State Patrol
The Washington State Patrol provides public safety services, including highway
patrols, forensic laboratories, security on the Washington State ferries and drug
enforcement.
The Agency has eight Public Records Officers, one in each district office. They help
coordinate the compilation of records in response to requests. The Public Records
Officer in the Olympia district office was our primary point of contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 10 out of 10 Requests

Washington State Patrol
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

10

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor to resubmit

Responsiveness
– 10department
Requests - Compared
to Average
for State
the request to another
Entity response
was drafted
or issued,
within the entity

but not received by the requestor

Washington State Patrol

other state with
agencies
Entity did not correctlyResponse
processtime
the versus average
Entityforresponded
incomplete or
(Based on response to initial request for records)
request, no response received
insufficient records

40

Number of Business Days

Entity
35 did not accept the format of the
request

30
25
20
15
10
5
0

27
24

13 12

13

15

13

12
8

9

4
0 0

7 7

8

8

1

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

6
3

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

126

Average business days for all agencies

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About Department of General Administration
The Department of General Administration provides expertise in essential support
services to other agencies. The Department’s primary customers are state agencies,
although services are also offered to municipalities across the state. The general
public also receives direct benefit from the Department’s management of the Capitol
Campus buildings, grounds, and parks. The Department has three divisions: facilities,
services and administration.
The Department’s public records process is centralized for non-routine, high-risk
and low-volume requests and has one Public Records Officer within its executive
management. On a part-time basis, this officer and another executive communications
office member manage the bulk of requests the department receives. However, the
public records process is decentralized for certain routine volume requests, primarily
related to bidding and procurement documents. Eleven other designated disclosure
coordinators process requests received in the divisions’ programs on a part-time
basis. We directed our records requests to the Public Records Officer position within
the executive management.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 10 out of 10 Requests

Department of General Administration
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

10

Sufficient response received

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer

Entity directed requestor
to resubmit- Compared to Average for State
Responsiveness
– 10 Requests

the request to another department
Entity response was drafted or issued,
within the entity Department of General
but notAdministration
received by the requestor
Response time versus average for other state agencies

Entity did not correctly process
theon response toEntity
responded
with incomplete or
(Based
initial request
for records)
request,
no
response
received
insufficient
records
40
Number of Business Days

35 did not accept the format of the
Entity
request
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

13

12

0 0

9

8

7
3 4

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

3
Travel
Vouchers

3
May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

5
1
Vacation
Records

8

8

7
2

5

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

6
3
Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all agencies

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About Department of Corrections
The Department of Corrections consists of the Office of the Secretary and three
divisions, each headed by a Deputy Secretary: the Prisons Division, the Community
Corrections Division and the Administrative Services Division.
Corrections’ public records process is centralized. It has one Public Records Officer
who relies on a staff of eight full-time employees and 25 coordinators who compile
and review records in response to requests. The Headquarters staff processed and
responded to our unannounced requests.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 8 out of 10 Requests

Department of Corrections
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

1

1

8

Sufficient response received

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor
Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared to Average for State

Department of Corrections

Response time versus average for other state agencies

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Entity responded with
incomplete records;
one page missing

21
13

12

14
8

0 0

2

20

19

17

9

7

4

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

6

8

Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

14
8

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

6

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

128

Average business days for all agencies

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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About Washington State Lottery
Washington’s Lottery was created by the state Legislature in July 1982. The agency
operates a state lottery and sells several types of gaming tickets to adults in the
general public, in order that such lottery produce the maximum revenue for the state
consonant with the dignity of the state and general welfare of the people.
	
The Lottery’s public records process is centralized. It has one Public Records Officer
and one Public Records Coordinator who process responses on all public records
requests. The Officer operates out of the agency’s Legal Services Department. The
Public Records Officer at the Legal Services department was our primary point of
contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 8 out of 10 Requests

Washington State Lottery
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

2
8

Sufficient response received

Entity did not accept the format of the
request

Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared to Average for State

Washington State Lottery

Response time versus average for other state agencies

12
4
0

Entity did not accept the format of
the request; blocked by SPAM filter

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Front desk indicated that they would
only accept requests via US Mail

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

13
9
5

4

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

9

8

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

5
Vacation
Records

8

7
4

4

8
3

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

4

6

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all agencies

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About Office of Financial Management
The Office of Financial Management provides assistance to the Governor, the
Legislature and state agencies in several areas including:
•	 Budget planning and monitoring and financial administration for executive branch
agencies.
•	 Preparing the Governor’s budget proposals and legislation for presentation to the
Legislature.
•	 Developing, supervising and maintaining the statewide accounting systems and
the central chart of accounts.
•	 Providing accounting services to small agencies and overseeing statewide
personal service contracts.
•	 Forecasting estimates of state and local population, projecting the state’s revenue
and monitoring changes in the state economy and labor force.
The Office’s public records process is centralized. The agency has one Public
Records Officer who relies on five to six coordinators assigned to the Agency’s
divisions to compile and review records in response to requests. The Public Records
Officer was our primary point of contact.

Conforming responses to the initial request – 10 out of 10 Requests

Office of Financial Management
Responsiveness to 10 Requests

10

Sufficient response received
Entity directed requestor to resubmit
the request to another department
within the entity
Entity did not correctly process the
request, no response received
Entity did not accept the format of the
request

130

Request not received by the entity’s
Public Records Officer
Entity response was drafted or issued,
but not received by the requestor
Entity responded with incomplete or
insufficient records

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Responsiveness – 10 Requests - Compared to Average for State

Office of Financial Management

Response time versus average for other state agencies

Number of Business Days

(Based on response to initial request for records)

40
35
30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Response received in
15 minutes

13 13

12

8 8

7 7

4

3
0 0

10 9

7 8

8
5

5 6

0

Sexual
2005 Top 5 Travel Policy
Harassment
Highest
Policy
Paid
Employees

Travel
Vouchers

May 2006
Cell Phone
Invoice

Vacation
Records

Information Out of State Employee
Technology
Travel
Recognition
Director Job
Awards
Description

Phone
Directory

Request Description
Business days to obtain record

Average business days for all agencies

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Response from Cabinet Agencies

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Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Official State Cabinet Agency Response to the 2008 Performance Audit Report
“Accessibility and Responsiveness of Public Agencies to Public Records Requests”
April 2008

The following Governor’s Cabinet agencies prepared this coordinated management response for
the audit report received on Friday, April 18, 2008: Department of Corrections, Office of
Financial Management, Department of General Administration, Department of Labor and
Industries, Washington State Lottery, Washington State Patrol, Department of Revenue, and
Department of Social and Health Services.
Finding 1: Thirty-one of 300 unannounced public records requests (10 percent) were
considered non-responsive (response not received by requestor). An additional seven
responses (2 percent) were either non-conforming or incomplete.
RESPONSE: We value and embrace transparency and openness, and strive to provide records to
the public for review as quickly as possible. As noted in our cover letter, Governor Gregoire has
high expectations for agencies to follow not only the letter – but also the spirit – of the Public
Records Act.
We believe that state agencies exhibit a high standard for responding to public records requests,
and that there is always room for improvement. We have examined the responses that did not
meet the Auditor’s criteria, in an attempt to identify where we can improve.
Walk-in requests. Overall, Cabinet agencies averaged 7.5 minutes in responding to public
records requests made in person. However, two exceptions were noted in the report. Given the
rapid response time of the majority of requests, we believe the exceptions were anomalies.
x

x

At the Washington State Lottery headquarters building, the request was made to a nonstate employee who provides security for the building. This third-party contractor
attempted to assist the requestors, but had not experienced a walk-in public records
request previously.
In the other instance, an employee at the Department of Labor & Industries also tried to
help the requestors. The employee followed the Model Rules and asked the requestors to
write down their request. Based on the information provided, the employee believed the
requestors were looking for information from a separate state entity, and directed them to
the place the employee felt could best answer the request. Although the requestors did
not receive what they were looking for from the agency, the employee acted in good faith
to provide them with the information they wanted.

Although walk-in requests are extremely rare, the agencies evaluated the results and took steps to
strengthen their customer service for walk-in requests in the future. In the case of nonemployees, the Lottery provided instruction cards for contract security personnel to refer to in
the event they receive another walk-in public records request.
Email. Cabinet agencies averaged slightly over two days in responding to the public records
email request. The report noted two exceptions related to email. In one instance, the agency
responded back to the requestor via email, and asked for clarification of the request. The
response was not received by the requestor. The agency provided a copy of its email response to
the auditors when asked about the response. The agency acted in good faith to provide the

Page 1 of 7

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Official State Cabinet Agency Response to the 2008 Performance Audit Report
“Accessibility and Responsiveness of Public Agencies to Public Records Requests”
April 2008

information, and neither the agency nor the auditors could determine why the requestor did not
receive the response.
The other exception related to an email filter used by an agency to protect its information
technology systems. Our more detailed response to the use of email filters is contained in the
response to Finding #2.
Missing page. Out of the numerous pages that Cabinet agencies provided in response to the
requests, one page was missing. An agency numbered the pages of its response documents and
sent them via email attachment to the requestor. One page of the response was inadvertently
omitted from the attachment. In the best practices section, the auditors commend the agency for
numbering the pages of its response. It was through this best practice that the auditors were able
to determine that a page was missing. When the agency was contacted about the omission, it
promptly sent the missing page.
We believe these instances are truly exceptions, and do not adequately reflect or detract from the
excellent customer service provided to requestors of public records.
Action Steps:
x

Training to third-party security personnel regarding walk-in public records requests at the
noted agency has been completed.

x

Agencies will continue to provide multiple avenues for submitting public records requests
and contacting agency public records officers, to ensure that requests are received and
processed appropriately.

x

Agencies have already established policies consistent with the Public Records Act, and will
consider incorporating the advisory Model Rules if they have not been already done so.

x

Agencies will evaluate the identified best practices to determine which may be applied.

Finding 2: Some entities do not accommodate one or more means of communicating public
records requests and therefore do not provide the public with the fullest assistance.
RESPONSE: The eight Cabinet agencies in this report accommodate all forms of public records
requests, and provide the public with the fullest assistance in accordance with the Model Rules of
the Public Records Act and state public records law (RCW 42.56).
Agency
Dept. of
Corrections
Office of
Financial
Management

Written
(Letter,
fax, email)
Yes

*Verbal
(Walk-In,
telephone)
Yes

Web site
http://www.doc.wa.gov/contact.asp

Yes

Yes

http://www.ofm.wa.gov/contact/default.asp

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Official State Cabinet Agency Response to the 2008 Performance Audit Report
“Accessibility and Responsiveness of Public Agencies to Public Records Requests”
April 2008
Dept. of General
Administration
Dept. of Labor
& Industries

Yes

Yes

http://www.ga.wa.gov/public-record.htm

Yes

Yes

http://www.lni.wa.gov/Main/AboutLNI/PublicDisclos
ure/

Washington
State Lottery

Yes

Yes

http://www.walottery.com/sections/AboutUs/Default.
aspx?Page=Legal

Washington
State Patrol

Yes

http://www.wsp.wa.gov/reports/pubdiscl.htm

Dept. of
Revenue

Yes

Yes in
person, no
over the
phone*
Yes

Dept. of Social
and Health
Services

Yes

Yes

http://www.dshs.wa.gov/pubdis.shtml

https://fortress.wa.gov/dor/efile/content/contactus/ema
il/brd.aspx

*The Model Rules encourage requestors to provide written records requests. The rules also
require Public Records Officers to document requests received in person or on the telephone.
(WAC 44-14-030, section 4.)
Email filters: The finding cited only one instance where an email request was not received by a
state agency. We consider the one instance as atypical, and not an example of a widespread
problem with email. However, we are very concerned about the possible ramifications of
implementing the recommendation to “select and set email filters at a level that will not block
public records requests.”
The law requires agencies to adhere to the policies and standards issued by the state Information
Services Board to secure state information technology systems and their data. Agencies must
balance the need for access to information with the need for maintaining the integrity of such
information. For example, agencies are required to screen emails for known viruses and disallow
those emails that cannot be examined.
We strive to provide excellent customer service by providing email addresses for requests.
However, it would be impossible for us to eliminate from our spam filters all of the potential
criteria that might cause a public records request email to be labeled as “spam” without defeating
the purpose of having protective filters. Reducing the level of protection around information
technology systems is dangerous and ill-advised.
Individually, state agencies receive thousands of spam emails each day. For example, in one
recent 30-day period the Office of Financial Management, which is a relatively small state
agency, received nearly 3 million spam messages, or 90 percent of all incoming email.
Reviewing all messages blocked by a spam filter for possible records requests would be
inefficient and consume significant taxpayer dollars. We believe a better solution is for agencies
to provide multiple avenues of communication for how a citizen can make a request.

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Official State Cabinet Agency Response to the 2008 Performance Audit Report
“Accessibility and Responsiveness of Public Agencies to Public Records Requests”
April 2008

Submitting forms via web site: We agree that providing for the submittal of a public records
request form through a web site is a best practice. However, stating that three state agencies do
not allow public records request forms to be submitted through their web sites is misleading at
best. These agencies provide forms on their web site that can be emailed, and an email address
that can be used to submit the request as well. These same agencies are also listed under “Best
Practices” as having a user-friendly web site, so it seems inconsistent that they are called out as
being deficient.
Telephone requests: The Model Rules issued by the Attorney General’s Office note that any
“one-size-fits-all” approach may not be best for requestors or agencies. The rules also encourage
requestors to provide written records requests, and require Public Records Officers to document
requests received in person or on the telephone (WAC 44-14-030, section 4).
The Washington State Patrol made an intentional decision not to accept public records requests
via telephone for two reasons:
1) The high probability of the requestor’s intent not being captured accurately.
2) Written public disclosure requests clearly define the material expected. If a dispute arises
regarding a verbal request, there is no record or documentation from the requestor
detailing what he or she was originally seeking. Written requests resolve potential
misunderstandings, reduce potential litigation, and provide better customer service.
Action Steps:
x

Agencies have already established policies consistent with the Public Records Act, and will
consider incorporating the advisory Model Rules if they have not been already done so.

x

Each agency in the audit currently makes training on the Public Records Act available to its
staff. For example, DSHS trained 18,000 individuals on the basic elements of public records
disclosure in 2006-2007. Some agencies offer on-line or web-based training. Many Public
Records Officers also regularly receive and provide training that counts as continuing legal
education (CLE) credits.

x

Agencies will continue to accommodate multiple modes of requesting public records.
Several agencies are evaluating a change to their web sites to allow web forms to be
submitted directly through the site.

x

Agencies that receive large numbers of requests have already developed information that
outlines how public records requests can be made, and that information is readily available to
the public.

Finding 3: Some entities did not provide complete and satisfactory explanations for
redactions of public records and some records were improperly redacted.
RESPONSE: We are pleased that the records provided by state agencies were appropriately
redacted. Two responses did not cite the specific legal exemption for the redaction. Since the
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Official State Cabinet Agency Response to the 2008 Performance Audit Report
“Accessibility and Responsiveness of Public Agencies to Public Records Requests”
April 2008

other redacted responses provided by these agencies did include the statutory reason, we believe
the two responses were an oversight and not an indication of a systemic problem. Nevertheless,
once alerted to the oversight, both agencies took steps to ensure the explanation of redactions in
future records request responses.
Action Steps:
x

These agencies provide comprehensive training and resource materials on legal exemptions
to staff who respond to records requests. They also make training on the Public Records Act
available to their staff, and offer regular on-line or web-based training.

x

The agencies mentioned have already taken steps to ensure the specific exemption that
applies to each redaction is provided to the requestor.

Finding 4: Some entities provided the requested public records in a less timely manner
than their peers.
RESPONSE: State agencies value government openness and strive to provide the best customer
service possible. As noted in the overall audit conclusion, agencies performed very well, and did
even better when measured against the existing legal standard for customer service and
efficiency.
The law sets a standard for measuring customer service and efficiency in providing public
records. Agencies are required by law to send a response within five days of receipt of the
request. A prompt response is defined as either sending the actual records, or providing a
reasonable estimate of when the request can be fulfilled. With the exception of a few clerical
oversights that have been corrected, agencies responded within the required five days – or
sooner – in every case.
The audit methodology includes factors outside of the agencies’ control. The charts in the
report characterize “response time” as the number of days it took from the moment a request was
made or sent to the time a response with all records requested was received. Starting the count
when a request was sent to an agency versus when it was received by the agency adds time to the
results, and includes circumstances outside the control of the agencies. Similarly, ending the
count when a response was received by the requestor versus when it was sent by the agency
inflates the response time with circumstances not controlled by agencies.
We recognize that using an average by definition means that some agencies ended up below the
average amount of time. We believe this form of measurement gives an artificial and somewhat
inaccurate picture of agency performance. The five-day response law is used as a measurement
of customer service and efficiency because it holds agencies accountable for those factors within
their control. An agency controls what happens to a request once it is received by the agency. It
does not control, for example, how long it takes the U.S. Postal Service to deliver a request to the
agency, or how long it takes the response to reach the recipient once it is sent.

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Official State Cabinet Agency Response to the 2008 Performance Audit Report
“Accessibility and Responsiveness of Public Agencies to Public Records Requests”
April 2008

State agencies provided good communication with the requestors. Agencies communicated
with the requestors about how much time it would take to provide records, and in nearly every
case were able to provide the records within the estimated timeframe. According to the law,
agencies must give a reasonable estimate of when a request can be fulfilled. Most of the
responses in the chart included many pages, and required appropriate redactions of confidential
information (e.g., VISA card numbers). These responses take longer to fulfill, as noted by the
auditors in the “Cause” section of the finding.
Agencies appropriately handled requests requiring copying fees. The report states that three
agencies “withheld records pending payment of the copy fees.” We feel this characterization is
misleading. The agencies listed in the report provide sufficient notification of their policies on
copy fees. In addition, the Model Rules state that a requestor who wishes to have copies of
records made (instead of simply inspecting them), should make arrangement to pay for copies of
the records or a deposit.
State agencies are experiencing an increasing number of records requests. For example, the table
below illustrates the number of requests received by three of the state agencies in the audit:
Agency
Department of Corrections
Washington State Patrol

Approximate Number of Public Records
Requests in 2007
6,700
73% from incarcerated offenders
10,000

Department of Social and Health
Services

24,000

Collecting copy fees can affect the speed in which requestors receive their documents. However,
these fees help agencies to recover the costs of providing hundreds of thousands of pages of
documents.
Action Steps:
x

In 2007, the Governor directed agencies to undertake a significant effort to explore
opportunities for providing records electronically. Funding requested for this effort was not
allocated in the 2008 legislative session. Nonetheless, a multi-agency task force has already
been formed to assist agencies in sharing best practices and addressing the challenges
presented by electronic document requests.

x

In 2007, the Office of Financial Management implemented a public records request list
service especially for large, complex, or electronic document requests. The goal is to
encourage communication among agency records officers and to ensure full compliance with
the law, avoid costly errors by improving timeliness, and provide full, consistent approaches
to responses.

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Official State Cabinet Agency Response to the 2008 Performance Audit Report
“Accessibility and Responsiveness of Public Agencies to Public Records Requests”
April 2008

x

The Risk Management Division of the Office of Financial Management is holding training
forums for agency public records officers. The first forum was held in March 2008. Two
more forums are currently planned, including one in eastern Washington.

x

Each agency in the audit currently makes training on the Public Records Act available to its
staff. For example, DSHS trained 18,000 individuals on the basic elements of public records
disclosure in 2006-2007. Some agencies offer on-line or web-based training. Many Public
Records Officers also regularly receive and provide training that counts as continuing legal
education (CLE) credits.

x

The Department of Corrections is working with the public and the Attorney General’s Office
to develop new rules for electronic disclosure of its public records.

x

Agencies that receive large volumes of public records requests will evaluate the proposed
gains in efficiency and also effectiveness of changing to a method of prioritizing incoming
requests versus continuing to process requests with a “first in, first out” approach.

x

Agencies will continue to use email to respond to public records requests whenever possible.

x

Agencies will continue to provide large records requests in installments when appropriate.

x

Agencies will continue to provide requestors with estimates of how long it will take to fulfill
public records requests, when extending more than five days.

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Appendix D – Summary Observations
from Entity Interviews
We sought comments from the staff who responded to our requests as to their
general perception of their entity’s current processes and practices in responding to
public records requests with the following interview questions:
•	 “What attributes in your system accommodates timely and efficient responses to
public records requests?”
Attitude
More than half of the interviewees stated that attitude and customer service are a
critical attribute to successfully responding to public records requests.
Training				
Fifty percent of the interviewees stated that training is a critical factor in successfully
responding to public records requests.
Request Tracking
More than half of the interviewees stated that tracking public records requests is a
critical attribute to successfully responding to public records requests.
Electronic Documents
More than half of the interviewees stated that converting public documents to
electronic form will improve the accessibility and retrieval of public records.
Centralization				
Twenty percent of the interviewees considered centralization of the public records
process as a critical factor to successfully respond to public records requests.
Assistance by Public Records Officers		
Nearly 25 percent of the interviewees considered assistance from the entity’s public
records officer to be a critical factor in successfully responding to public records
requests.
Monitoring & Accountability				
Nearly 25 percent of the interviewees considered a system of monitoring and
accountability to be a critical factor in successfully responding to public records
requests.
We sought comments from the staff who responded to our requests about challenges
in responding to requests and in the processes they have in place:
•	 “What are the major attributes/impediments that impair the entity’s ability to
respond timely and efficiently to public records requests?”
•	 “What would you change, if anything, regarding the processes you currently have
in place?”
Staff & Resources
Nearly 50 percent of the interviewees stated that a lack of staffing and resources
allocated to public records requests is challenging to meet the public expectations.
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In most cases, public records requests are an ancillary duty assigned to staff who
find that fulfilling public records requests impacts their ability to fulfill their primary
assigned duties and functions.
Need for Better Guidance				
Approximately 20 percent of the interviewees stated that they would like better
guidance on how to process and administer public records requests.
Large Requests				
Almost 20 percent of the interviewees stated that a challenge in fulfilling public
records requests were that some requests involved a large number of records and
the associated challenges in locating and compiling those records.
Nuisance (Malicious) Requests			
Nearly 20 percent of the interviewees noted malicious, disingenuous or insincere
requests are submitted because of bad feeling or conflict the requestor may be
having with their entity or the desire to delay or block a potential action by the entity
using valuable time and resources to fulfill.
Increasing Volume of Requests	
		
Nearly 20 percent of the interviewees stated that the volume of public records
requests is significantly increasing at an increasing rate.
Locating Records				
Approximately 20 percent of the interviewees stated that that locating the requested
records is at times difficult.
Costs & Funding				
Approximately 15 percent of interviewees stated that the time dedicated to
responding to public records requests presented a challenge given the costs
associated with the activity and the lack of dedicated funding for this activity by their
entity.
Vague Requests				
Nearly 20 percent of interviewees stated that one of the challenges in fulfilling public
records requests is identifying what specific records the requestor is seeking. They
feel constrained because they are aware they can’t ask the requestors “why” they are
making the request but would like to do so to provide greater clarity to the requests.
Five-Day Rule				
Nearly 20 percent of interviewees stated that they felt significant pressure to respond
to the requestors in the statutorily required five business days. There appears to be
some confusion and misunderstanding by the interviewees’ application of the law. The
law requires the entity to acknowledge it has received the request in five business
days. If the record can’t be provided, entities are afforded the ability to provide a
reasonable estimate of when the records would be provided and provide them when
they are assembled and available for inspection. In any event, entities should provide
the requested records in the most timely possible manner.
We communicated with each audited entity many times during the audit. Additionally,
information came to our attention critiquing the Public Records Act from public
officials, public entities, newspaper editorials, public records blogs and a nationwide
study of public records processes. Those areas are as follows:
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Public Records Requests Submitted for Commercial Use
During our interviews, four entities expressed concerns regarding the time required to
fill records requests that are, in their view, used for commercial purposes:
•	 King County
•	 Yakima County
•	 Department of Labor and Industries
•	 Washington State Patrol
For example, the Washington State Patrol told us significant resources are spent
providing accident reports to attorneys as laws allow commercial use of collision
reports obtained from a public records request. The entities believe the time spent
on these requests is costly and uses resources that could be applied to day-to-day
operations.
Five entities interviewed stated they receive requests from private attorneys they
believe are for commercial use:
•	 King County
•	 Yakima County
•	 City of Seattle
•	 Department of Labor and Industries
•	 Washington State Patrol
We observed from our request for entities’ phone directories containing names and
contact information that the City of Kent required the requestor to sign an affidavit
attesting that the information provided would not be used for commercial purposes.
The Washington State Patrol also provided a signature line for the requestors to
certify they understood the records provided were not to be used for commercial
purposes.
Public Requests Submitted in Lieu of Attorney Discovery Process
King County and the City of Seattle stated they were receiving an increasing number
of requests from attorneys using the Public Records Act to gather public documents
prior to filing litigation. The entities believe that these types of public records requests
shift the costs previously borne by the attorneys in the discovery process to the
public entities that must provide the records under the Public Records Act. We
observed the Washington State Patrol provided a signature line for the requestor
to sign, certifying they understood the records provided were not to be used for
commercial purposes.
Privacy Restrictions Imposed by Collective Bargaining Agreements
During our evaluation of the contributing factors resulting in an entity being less timely
in providing records, the Department of Social and Health Services advised us that
records requests directed at specific individuals were delayed because the entity’s
collective bargaining agreements with employee unions require the Department
employees to be notified of public records requests to allow them the opportunity to
seek a court order preventing disclosure of the requested records or elements of the
records.
Records Requests from Incarcerated Prisoners
Faced with what Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna calls a “cottage
industry” of prison inmates filing requests for large numbers of government records
in hopes of collecting penalties for slip-ups, state lawmakers are considering
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changing the rules. The proposal calls for paying any penalties into the state’s victimcompensation fund, rather than to the inmate. According to the Attorney General’s
Office:
•	 Since 2002, one inmate has filed 494 requests totaling 19,000 pages of
government records, plus audio tapes and CDs.
•	 Another inmate filed 788 records requests in the last five months of 2005.
The Department of Corrections determined that approximately 73 percent of the
records requests received in 2007 were received from inmates.

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Appendix E – Sources of information
about the Public Records Act
Public Records Act (RCW 42.56)
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=42.56
Washington Attorney General’s Model Rules:
The Attorney General’s Office developed model rules regarding paper and electronic
public records that have been adopted and published in the Washington Administrative
Code. The model rules are non-binding best practices to assist records requestors
and agencies.
2006 Model Rules (Paper Records):
http://www.atg.wa.gov/uploadedFiles/Another/About_the_Office/Open_
Government/Final%20Model%20Rules%20WACs.pdf
2007 Model Rules (Electronic Records)
http://www.atg.wa.gov/uploadedFiles/Another/About_the_Office/Open_
Government/Model%20Rules%20Electronic%20Records.pdf
Public Records and Open Public Meetings
http://www.atg.wa.gov/PublicRecords/default.aspx
“Obtaining Public Records” — http://www.atg.wa.gov/Records.aspx
The Attorney General’s Office has a Web page dedicated to guide public records
requestors on how to request records and what records are available for
inspection. “Open Government Internet Manual”
http://www.atg.wa.gov/OpenGovernment/InternetManual.aspx
Sunshine Committee: http://www.atg.wa.gov/opengovernment/sunshine.aspx
Other Resources
Municipal Research Service Center
http://www.mrsc.org/subjects/legal/prd/prd.aspx
Washington Coalition for Open Government
http://www.washingtoncog.org/

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Appendix F – Tips for Obtaining Public Records
Be precise
Make your request as specific as you can and be willing to be flexible in working with
the entity to narrow your request. Provide, ideally in writing, a reasonable description
that will enable the agency locate the record. Also, because many governments are
large and decentralized, try to determine which office or department may hold the
record(s) you are requesting.
Be pleasant
Entity staff will be more inclined to assist you locate a record if you approach them
professionally. If the entity staff appears unable to assist you, ask to be referred to
the entity’s Public Records Officer for guidance and assistance.
Be persistent
Assume the record you are requesting is a public record and if need be, state that
you are making a “public records request.” It is the responsibility of the entity to
determine if a record or portions of a record are exempt. If the entity tells you a
record is exempt and denies your request, it should also provide you with the specific
legal citation of the exemption.
Source: Complied from - “Tips make record gathering easier” – Adam Lynn,
Spokesman-Review (www.openwashtington.com)

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Appendix G – Communications from the
Governor on the Public Records Act

STATE OF WASHINGTON

OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
P.O. Box 40002 x Olympia, Washington 98504-0002 x (360) 753-6780 x www.governor.wa.gov

February 7, 2006

TO:

All Agency Directors

FROM:

Christine O. Gregoire
Governor

SUBJECT:

Washington Public Disclosure Act

I am writing about a subject that is very important to this administration and the people of
Washington. Voters passed our Public Disclosure Act as an Initiative in 1972. The
purpose of this memorandum is to emphasize my expectation that this administration will
live up to the spirit of this very important law.
We all share the goal of increasing the credibility of state government. The Public
Disclosure Act is a vital tool in helping us achieve that goal. The concept behind the
Public Disclosure Act is simple. An informed public is essential to our form of
government. The public must retain control of government and the only way it can do
that is to be informed about what government is doing.
Here is how drafters of the Public Disclosure Act put it: “The people of this state do not
yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating
authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people
to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining
informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.”
Others point out that the more informed people are, the better they will be governed and
that government performs best when it is open and accountable.
The Public Disclosure Act is one of the primary ways the public keeps informed about
government. I therefore direct all agencies to renew their commitment to openness, to the
underlying principles of the act, and to its effective implementation. Each agency must
take a fresh look at its implementation of Chapter 42.17 RCW, reduce any backlog on
disclosure requests, and foster an appreciation of the importance of public disclosure
among its employees. It is the expectation of this administration that we will look for

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ways to comply with the letter and spirit of the Public Disclosure Act rather than look for
ways to withhold disclosure.
Our goal should be to establish a public confidence that each individual has the ability to
access the records needed to help him or her understand state government’s decisions and
how they are made. To do that, we must be committed to openness and practice it on a
daily basis by enhancing public access and ensuring records are released in a timely,
respectful way.
There is no question that release of some records can be time consuming, difficult, and
sometimes even embarrassing. But we must always remember we are accountable to the
people and that means we have to operate with an openness that allows them to have
input on what we do, understand our decision making, and ultimately sit in judgment of
our work. We must all work to build full public confidence that state government is open
and accountable.

2

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Appendix H – Recent Developments
in Public Records Management
Recently amended Attorney General’s Model Rules addressing electronic
records
The Attorney General’s Office recently amended its model rules to provide guidance
to public entities on how to provide access to and copies of electronic public records.
Secretary of State - State Archivist’s Digital Archiving Project
In 2005, the Secretary of State’s Office State Archivist purchased a software
system to convert state and local government documents to make them available
electronically throughout the state. The Digital Archiving system also will help
preserve the state’s historical records while simplifying citizen access to those
records.
Department of Information Services, Washington State Electronic Records
Vault (WaServ)
The state’s Department of Information Services is putting in place WaServ, a new
e-mail retention and discovery system for use by all state agencies. The Department
plans to have the new service ready for use in 2009 or thereafter.
Many state agencies now store e-mail in a format that often is not searchable. This
requires the agency to conduct a time-consuming search of individually stored
e-mails when a public disclosure request is received. WaServ is designed to create
a standard archiving method and is aligned with the Secretary of State’s Digital
Archiving Project. With the new system, state agencies will be able to respond faster
to public records requests, complete comprehensive searches and make records
retention practices uniform.
The Department states WaServ will result in reduced data storage costs because
storage will be shared with other state agencies.
Internet Search Engines and Electronic Public Records
An Internet search engine provides free consulting and software to several states
in an effort to make it easier for users to search for government information on the
Internet. The records that will show up in search-engine queries already are available
online but many are hard to find. Many state agency Web sites and electronic records
haven’t been indexed by popular search engines.

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Appendix I – Sample public records request
This letter is an example of a public records request. We sent this letter as one of our
public records requests.

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Appendix J – Overall Results
Our 300 unannounced public records requests achieved the following results:

Public Records Request Results
Responses received were
incomplete or insufficient
7

Requests with no
response received by
requestor
32

Requests with sufficient
responses
261

Types of Incomplete Responses
Request not received
by the entity’s Public
Records Officer

Entity did not accept
the format of the
request

3

4

Entity directed requestor
to resubmit the request
to another department
within the entity

10

Entity did not correctly
process the request,
no response received

5

Entity reponse
drafted or issued,
but not received by
requestor

Entity responded with
incomplete or insufficient
records

7

9
Based upon our follow-up with the entities:
•	 Two entities’ Public Records Officers asserted they had no record of receiving
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three (1 percent) of our requests.
•	 Seven responses (3 percent) did not fulfill our requests.
Two entities’ public records officers stated
•	 Four requests were rejected because the entity did not accept the method of
delivery.
•	 In one instance, requestors were told only requests submitted via U.S. Mail would
be accepted when they attempted to submit a verbal, in-person request.
•	 Three requests that were submitted by e-mail were not responded to. One entity
was able to verify the request was blocked by an e-mail filter. In the other two
cases, the entities suspected the e-mails were blocked by an e-mail filter, but
were unable to ascertain that.
•	 10 (3 percent) of our requests were received by the entity, but we were
directed to resubmit the request to another department or division. In these
circumstances, we consider the entity to be nonresponsive to the original
request.
•	 Nine (3 percent) requests were responded to by the entity but never received
by our Office. We noted seven instances in which the entity could document that
records were prepared or sent, but we never received them. In one instance, the
entity sent a request for clarification that we never received.
•	 Five requests were not fulfilled because entity staff did not process the requests.

Walk-In requests for entity sexual harassment policy
The results of our walk-in requests varied based on the complexity of the facility and
availability of instructions such as signage on where to go to file a request, and the
number of times the requestor was directed to another department to place the
request.
Our audit expectation was entity staff would not ask about the purpose of the request
unless it was clearly to aid in the identification of the records. This expectation is
consistent with the spirit of the Public Disclosure Act. In the case described below,
we found the inquiry regarding the reason the policy was being sought as barrier to
obtaining the records.
Our walk-in request at Pierce County took an hour – at least double the amount of
time the other requests took -- and required a significant effort on the part of the
requestor because the entity’s staff asked several questions bordering on contentious
before agreeing to provide the record. An excerpt of the auditors’ experience when
making the request follows:
“During our walk-in request for the County’s sexual harassment policy, requestors
were asked why they were interested in the policy by the front desk staff at the
Clerk’s Office, and the Human Resources front desk staff and manager. The manager
asked additional questions before the policy was provided; where the requestors went
to school and what branch of the school they attended. Requestors asked why these
questions were being asked and were informed the manager needed to know where
the policy was going before she could provide it to them. After answering all of the
questions, the manager provided the policy several minutes later.”
The following charts present the number of minutes it took requestors to enter the
facility, place the request and leave the facility.

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Average Time Spent by Requestor in Submitting Walk-in Requests
(by Entity type)
Entity Type

Average Minutes Invested

Counties

18 minutes

Cities

12 minutes

State Agencies

8 minutes

Walk-in Request: Time invested in submitting the request
Entity

Minutes

Counties
Clark County

5

Spokane County

9

Kitsap County

10

Thurston County

10

Snohomish County

15

Yakima County

15

Whatcom County

15

Benton County

20

King County

25

Pierce County

60

Cities
City of Vancouver

5

City of Everett

5

City of Kent

5

City of Spokane Valley

10

City of Federal Way

10

City of Yakima

10

City of Spokane

12

City of Seattle

15

City of Bellevue

15

City of Tacoma

30

State Agencies

154

Washington State Patrol

3

Dept. of Social & Health Services

5

Dept. of General Administration

5

WA State Office of Financial Mgmt

5

Office of Insurance Commissioner

7

Dept. of Labor and Industries

7

Washington State Lottery

7

Dept. of Corrections

8

WA St. Investment Board

10

Department of Revenue

20

We then measured the number of business days it took to obtain the records once

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the request was submitted. Entities are not required to provide the record upon
demand; rather, they are required to accept our request and forward it to the
appropriate person for processing. Entities that show a zero (“0”) are entities that
provided the records at the time of the visit. These requests occurred between
February 9 and February 16, 2007.

Results from walk-in requests for sexual harassment policy
0

City of Bellevue
City of Everett

2

City of Federal Way

0

City of Kent

7

City of Seattle

0

City of Spokane

0

City of Spokane Valley

0

City of Tacoma

0

City of Vancouver

0

City of Yakima

0

Benton County

0

Clark County

1

King County

0

Kitsap County

0

Pierce County

0

Snohomish County

0

Spokane County

0

Thurston County

0

Whatcom County

0

Yakima County

0

Dept. of Corrections

Front desk asked requestor to come back later

0

Dept. of General Administration

Entity provided incorrect response and sent requestor to another agency for assistance

Dept. of Labor & Industries
Dept. of Revenue

0

Dept. of Social & Health Services

0

Office of Financial Management

0

Office of the Insurance Commissioner
WA State Investment Board

Entity responded with
incomplete records; one
page missing

3
0

WA State Lottery

Front desk indicated that they would only accept requests via US Mail

0

WA State Patrol

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

Number of days it took to receive response to the initial request

40

Mail-In Requests:
Averages for Each Request Mode
Request Mode

Average Days to Respond

Certified Mail

10

Standard Mail

7

E-mail

3

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Certified letter request for 5 highest paid employees
Our first request asked the entity to provide records that showed the names, job titles
and compensation amounts for the entity’s five highest-paid employees for calendar
year 2005. The requests were sent by certified mail on November 22, 2006.

Results of certified mail request for salaries of the 5 highest paid
employees
City of Bellevue

6

City of Everett

6
5

City of Federal Way

20

City of Kent
City of Seattle

Entity responded with
incomplete or insufficient
records; redactions applied to
records rendered them
unusable

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request to another department within the entity

5

City of Spokane
1

City of Spokane Valley
City of Tacoma

7
6

City of Vancouver
City of Yakima

7
10

Benton County
2

Clark County

5

King County
2

Kitsap County

6

Pierce County
5

Snohomish County
4

Spokane County

10

Thurston County
3

Whatcom County
Yakima County

14
17

Dept. of Corrections
Dept. of General Administration

7
13

Dept. of Labor & Industries

26

Dept. of Revenue
17

Dept. of Social & Health Services
3

Office of Financial Management
Office of the Insurance Commissioner
WA State Investment Board

10
4

WA State Lottery

13

WA State Patrol

0

156

Entity responded with insufficient records;
initial web site did not provide requested
record

7

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

Number of days it took to receive response to the initial request

40

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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E-mail request for entity travel policy
This was the only request sent using e-mail. These requests were sent on December
14, 2006.

Results from e-mail request for entity travel policy
1

City of Bellevue
City of Everett

Entity did not correctly process the request, no response received

City of Federal Way

Entity response was issued, but not received by the requestor

5

City of Kent
City of Seattle

Entity did not accept the format of request; (E-mail) SPAM filter suspected

City of Spokane

1

City of Spokane Valley

1

Entity responded with insufficient records; initial
web site did not provide requested record

2

City of Tacoma
City of Vancouver

1

City of Yakima

2

Benton County

Entity did not correctly process the request, no response received

1

Clark County
King County

7
2

Kitsap County
Pierce County

Entity did not accept the format of request; (E-mail) SPAM filter suspected

Snohomish County

Response received in 40 minutes
2

Spokane County
Thurston County

4

Whatcom County

Entity response was drafted or issued, but not received by the requestor

Yakima County

5
2

Dept. of Corrections

3

Dept. of General Administration
2

Dept. of Labor & Industries

6

Dept. of Revenue
2

Dept. of Social & Health Services

Response received in 15 minutes

Office of Financial Management
Office of the Insurance Commissioner
WA State Investment Board

13
Entity did not correctly process the request, no response received

WA State Lottery

Entity did not accept format of request; (E-mail) blocked by SPAM filter

1

WA State Patrol

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

Number of days it took to receive response to the initial request

157

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Certified letter request for travel records
We asked the entity for copies of travel voucher(s) for specified entity staff for July
through December 2005. The request was sent via certified mail on December 21,
2006.

Results from certified mail request for travel vouchers
8

City of Bellevue
4

City of Everett

19

City of Federal Way
11

City of Kent
City of Seattle

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request to another department within the entity

16

City of Spokane
5

City of Spokane Valley

7

City of Tacoma
6

City of Vancouver

8

City of Yakima

12

Benton County
9

Clark County

12

King County
8

Kitsap County

19

Pierce County
4

Snohomish County

5

Spokane County
Thurston County

15

Entity responded with
incomplete records; one
page missing

8

Whatcom County

9

Yakima County

21

Dept. of Corrections
3

Dept. of General Administration

14

Dept. of Labor & Industries
9

Dept. of Revenue
5

Dept. of Social & Health Services

13

Office of Financial Management
9

Office of the Insurance Commissioner

19

WA State Investment Board
9

WA State Lottery

27

WA State Patrol

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

Number of days it took to receive response to the initial request

158

40

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Certified mail request for cell phone records
We asked the entity for the May 2006 entity-owned cell phone record for the entity’s
top non-elected official or chief agency official. The request was sent via certified mail
on December 28, 2006.

Results from certified mail request for cell phone records
6

City of Bellevue
3

City of Everett

10

City of Federal Way
4

City of Kent
City of Seattle

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request to another department within the entity

9

City of Spokane
3

City of Spokane Valley

4

City of Tacoma

13

City of Vancouver
7

City of Yakima
3

Benton County

6

Clark County
5

King County
3

Kitsap County

11

Pierce County

14

Snohomish County
4

Spokane County

7

Thurston County
4

Whatcom County
Yakima County

Entity response was drafted or issued, but not received by the requestor

14

Dept. of Corrections
3

Dept. of General Administration

7

Dept. of Labor & Industries

8

Dept. of Revenue
5

Dept. of Social & Health Services

8

Office of Financial Management
Office of the Insurance Commissioner

2
15

WA State Investment Board
5

WA State Lottery

13

WA State Patrol

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

Number of days it took to receive response to the initial request

159

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Standard mail request for vacation records
We asked the entity for the vacation records of the entity’s top, non-elected financial
officer for January through June 2006. The request was sent via standard mail on
December 28, 2006.

Results from standard mail request for vacation records
7

City of Bellevue

9

City of Everett
2

City of Federal Way

3

City of Kent
City of Seattle

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request to another department within the entity

6

City of Spokane
City of Spokane Valley

3

City of Tacoma

3
5

City of Vancouver

8

City of Yakima
7

Benton County
5

Clark County

5

King County
3

Kitsap County

10

Pierce County

22

Snohomish County
5

Spokane County
Thurston County

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request to another department within the entity

7

Whatcom County
Yakima County

Entity response was drafted or issued, but not received by the requestor

19

Dept. of Corrections
1

Dept. of General Administration

10

Dept. of Labor & Industries
8

Dept. of Revenue

14

Dept. of Social & Health Services
10

Office of Financial Management
5

Office of the Insurance Commissioner
4

WA State Investment Board

5

WA State Lottery

12

WA State Patrol

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

Number of days it took to receive response to the initial request

160

40

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Standard mail request for Information
Technology Director job description
The request was sent via standard mail on December 28, 2006.

Results for standard mail request for Information Technology Director
job description
2

City of Bellevue
City of Everett

Request not received by the entity’s Public Records Officer

City of Federal Way

4
13

City of Kent
City of Seattle

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request to another department within the entity

5

City of Spokane
3

City of Spokane Valley

10

City of Tacoma
2

City of Vancouver
City of Yakima

4

Benton County

4
5

Clark County

9

King County
Kitsap County

Request not received by the entity’s Public Records Officer

5

Pierce County
3

Snohomish County

18

Spokane County
5

Thurston County

6

Whatcom County
Yakima County

Entity responded with insufficient
records; more sufficient records existed

5

20

Dept. of Corrections
Dept. of General Administration

5

Dept. of Labor & Industries

5
7

Dept. of Revenue
3

Dept. of Social & Health Services

7

Office of Financial Management
Office of the Insurance Commissioner

3
6

WA State Investment Board
4

WA State Lottery

7

WA State Patrol

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

Number of days it took to receive response to the initial request

161

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Certified mail request for out-of-state travel records

We asked for all records and vouchers showing out-of-state travel reimbursements or
travel costs for July 2005 through June 2006. One individual was selected from each
entity. For counties and cities, the top law enforcement officer was selected. The
request was sent via certified mail on December 29, 2006.

Results for certified mail request for out-of-state travel expenditures
21

City of Bellevue
5

City of Everett

35

City of Federal Way
14

City of Kent
City of Seattle

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request to another department within the entity

City of Spokane

Entity did not correctly process the request, no response received

2

City of Spokane Valley

40

City of Tacoma
3

City of Vancouver

8

City of Yakima
4

Benton County
Clark County

Entity did not correctly process the request, no response received

King County

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request to another department within the entity

Kitsap County

29
17

Pierce County

22

Snohomish County
10

Spokane County
Thurston County

Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request to another department within the entity

15

Whatcom County
Yakima County

Entity response was drafted or issued, but not received by the requestor

6

Dept. of Corrections
2

Dept. of General Administration
Dept. of Labor & Industries

6

Dept. of Revenue

6
19

Dept. of Social & Health Services
7

Office of Financial Management
Office of the Insurance Commissioner

4
6

WA State Investment Board
4

WA State Lottery
WA State Patrol

24

0

162

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

Number of days it took to receive response to the initial request

40

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
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Standard mail request for employee
recognition award expenditures
We asked for all records or vouchers showing expenditures for employee awards
and/or recognition in December 2005 and January 2006 for selected entity
departments. The request was sent via standard mail on January 3, 2007.

Results for standard mail request for employee recognition award
expenditures
10

City of Bellevue
6

City of Everett

9

City of Federal Way

10

City of Kent

City of Seattle Entity directed requestor to resubmit the request to another department within the entity

7

City of Spokane

10

City of Spokane Valley
7

City of Tacoma
5

City of Vancouver
4

City of Yakima

6

Benton County

7

Clark County

11

King County
Kitsap County

4

Pierce County

5

Snohomish County

5
15

Spokane County

5

Thurston County

10

Whatcom County

8

Yakima County
Dept. of Corrections

Entity response was drafted or issued, but not received by the requestor

5

Dept. of General Administration

9

Dept. of Labor & Industries

12

Dept. of Revenue
4

Dept. of Social & Health Services

5

Office of Financial Management

11

Office of the Insurance Commissioner
8

WA State Investment Board
3

WA State Lottery
WA State Patrol

15

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

Number of days it took to receive response to the initial request

163

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Standard mail request for entity phone directory
In cases where we believed the entire directory would be too large, we requested a
directory for one department within the entity. The request was sent via standard mail
on January 5, 2007.

Results for standard mail request for entity phone directory
2

City of Bellevue

8

City of Everett
City of Federal Way

3

City of Kent

3

City of Seattle

2

City of Spokane

1

City of Spokane Valley

1

City of Tacoma

2

City of Vancouver

2
2

City of Yakima
1

Benton County

2
2

Clark County
King County
Kitsap County

Request not received by the entity’s Public Records Officer

1

Pierce County
Snohomish County

Entity response was drafted or issued, but not received by the requestor

Spokane County

Entity response was drafted or issued, but not received by the requestor

4

Thurston County
2

Whatcom County
Yakima County

Entity response was drafted or issued, but not received by the requestor

14

Dept. of Corrections
3

Dept. of General Administration

14

Dept. of Labor & Industries
8

Dept. of Revenue
3

Dept. of Social & Health Services

5

Office of Financial Management
Office of the Insurance Commissioner

1
2

WA State Investment Board

4

WA State Lottery
WA State Patrol

3

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

Number of days it took to receive response to the initial request

164

40

Washington State Auditor’s Office Performance Audit Report
Open Public Records Practices at 30 Government Entities — Report #1000011

Appendix K - Criteria
General Performance Criteria:
RCW 42.56.030 states:
“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve
them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the
right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for
them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain
control over the instruments they have created. The public records subdivision of
this chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed
to promote this public policy and to assure that the public interest will be fully
protected. In the event of conflict between the provisions of this chapter and any
other act, the provisions of this chapter shall govern.”
Initiative 276, passed in 1972, contained a similar public policy statement:
“It is hereby declared by the sovereign people to be the public policy of the state
of Washington: . . . (11) That, mindful of the right of individuals to privacy and
of the desirability of the efficient administration of government, full access to
information concerning the conduct of government on every level must be assured
as a fundamental and necessary precondition to the sound governance of a free
society.”

CRITERIA – Finding 1
We identified the top-performing entities based on the unannounced requests.
Practices used by the top performers became our performance criteria. A list of
the top performers is in Appendix J, “Overall Results” section of this report. Top
performing entities provided all requested records and those records were complete
and consistent with those that were requested. Top performing entities did not
redirect the requestor to submit his or her request a second time to a different
department within the state agency or local government.
The legal criteria presented below is provided for context, as this audit was not
focused on compliance with the Public Records Act but on the effectiveness and
efficiency of state agencies’ and local governments responses to records requests.
The citations made below are either in whole or in part as they relate to the subject
matter of the finding. Emphasis, as indicated by underline or bold font, has been
added.
WAC 44-14-04004 - Responsibilities of agency in providing records states in part:
(1) General. An agency may simply provide the records or make them available within
the five-business day period of the initial response. When it does so, an agency
should also provide the requestor a written cover letter or e-mail briefly describing
the records provided and informing the requestor that the request has been closed.
This assists the agency in later proving that it provided the specified records on a
certain date and told the requestor that the request had been closed. However, a
cover letter or e-mail might not be practical in some circumstances, such as when the
agency provides a small number of records or fulfills routine requests.
An agency can, of course, provide the records sooner than five business days.
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Providing the “fullest assistance” to a requestor would mean providing a readily
available record as soon as possible. For example, an agency might routinely
prepare a premeeting packet of documents three days in advance of a city council
meeting. The packet is readily available so the agency should provide it to a
requestor on the same day of the request so he or she can have it for the council
meeting.
(4) Failure to provide records. A “denial” of a request can occur when an agency:
	
Does not have the record;
	
Fails to respond to a request;
	
Claims an exemption of the entire record or a portion of it; or
	
Without justification, fails to provide the record after the reasonable estimate
expires.

CRITERIA – Finding 2
We identified the top-performing entities based on our unannounced requests as
performance criteria. Those top performers can be found in the Overview of Audit
Results section of this report. Top performers include those that accept public
records requests in multiple forms that include in person, by e-mail, in writing, by
fax, and by phone. Top performers do not filter or block public records requests
submitted by e-mail to public records officers. Top performers do not require
requestors to complete public records request forms. However, top performers
allow requestors the option of using on-line request forms for requesting records and
submitting those requests electronically.
The legal criteria below is provided for context, as this audit was not focused on
compliance with the Public Records Act but on the effectiveness and efficiency of
state agencies’ and local governments responses to records requests. The citations
made below are either in whole or in part as they relate to the subject matter of the
finding. Emphasis, as indicated by underline or bold font, has been added.
RCW 42.56.100 - Protection of public records--Public access. Agencies shall adopt
and enforce reasonable rules and regulations, and the office of the secretary of the
senate and the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives shall adopt
reasonable procedures allowing for the time, resource, and personnel constraints
associated with legislative sessions, consonant with the intent of this chapter to
provide full public access to public records, to protect public records from damage or
disorganization, and to prevent excessive interference with other essential functions
of the agency, the office of the secretary of the senate, or the office of the chief
clerk of the house of representatives. Such rules and regulations shall provide for the
fullest assistance to inquirers and the most timely possible action on requests for
information. Nothing in this section shall relieve agencies, the office of the secretary
of the senate, and the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives from
honoring requests received by mail for copies of identifiable public records.
WAC 44-14-030 Availability of public records.
(4) Making a request for public records.
(a) Any person wishing to inspect or copy public records of the (name of agency)
should make the request in writing on the (name of agency’s) request form, or by
letter, fax, or e-mail addressed to the public records officer and including the following
information:
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•	
•	
•	
•	

Name of requestor;
Address of requestor;
Other contact information, including telephone number and any e-mail address;
Identification of the public records adequate for the public records officer or
designee to locate the records; and
•	 The date and time of day of the request.
(b) If the requestor wishes to have copies of the records made instead of simply
inspecting them, he or she should so indicate and make arrangements to pay for
copies of the records or a deposit. Pursuant to section (insert section), standard
photocopies will be provided at (amount) cents per page.
(c) A form is available for use by requestors at the office of the public records officer
and on-line at (web site address).
(d) The public records officer or designee may accept requests for public records that
contain the above information by telephone or in person. If the public records officer
or designee accepts such a request, he or she will confirm receipt of the information
and the substance of the request in writing.
WAC 44-14-03006 - Form of requests states in part:
There is no statutorily required format for a valid public records request. A request
can be sent in by mail. RCW 42.17.290/42.56.100. A request can also be
made by e-mail, fax, or orally. A request should be made to the agency’s public
records officer. An agency may prescribe means of requests in its rules. RCW
42.17.250/42.56.040 and 42.17.260(1)/42.56.070(1); RCW 34.05.220 (state
agencies). An agency is encouraged to make its public records request form
available on its web site.
	
A number of agencies accept oral, in-person public records requests (for example,
asking to look at a building permit). Some agencies find oral requests to be the
best way to provide certain kinds of records. However, for larger requests, oral
requests may be problematic. An oral request does not provide a record of what
was requested and therefore prevents a requestor or agency from later proving what
was included in the request. Furthermore, as described in WAC 44-14-04002(1),
a requestor must provide the agency with reasonable notice that the request is for
the disclosure of public records; oral requests, especially to agency staff other than
the public records officer or designee, may not provide the agency with the required
reasonable notice. Therefore, requestors are strongly encouraged to make written
requests. If an agency receives an oral request, the agency staff person receiving
it should immediately reduce it to writing and then verify in writing with the requestor
that it correctly describes the request.

CRITERIA – Finding 3
We identified the top-performing entities, based upon our unannounced requests as
performance criteria. Those top performers can be found in the Overview of Audit
Results section of this report. Top performing entities did not redact records or
limited their redactions to those allowed or required by state law and explained the
purpose of the redactions to the requestor.
The legal criteria presented below is provided for context, as this audit was not
focused on compliance with the Public Records Act but on the effectiveness and
efficiency of state agencies’ and local governments responses to records requests.
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The citations made below are either in whole or in part as they relate to the subject
matter of the finding. Emphasis, as indicated by underline or bold font, has been
added.
RCW 42.56.060 - Disclaimer of public liability. No public agency, public official,
public employee, or custodian shall be liable, nor shall a cause of action exist, for any
loss or damage based upon the release of a public record if the public agency, public
official, public employee, or custodian acted in good faith in attempting to comply
with the provisions of this chapter.
RCW 42.56.210 - Certain personal and other records exempt.
(1) Except for information described in RCW 42.56.230(3)(a) and confidential income
data exempted from public inspection pursuant to RCW 84.40.020, the exemptions
of this chapter are inapplicable to the extent that information, the disclosure of
which would violate personal privacy or vital governmental interests, can be deleted
from the specific records sought. No exemption may be construed to permit the
nondisclosure of statistical information not descriptive of any readily identifiable
person or persons.
(2) Inspection or copying of any specific records exempt under the provisions of this
chapter may be permitted if the superior court in the county in which the record is
maintained finds, after a hearing with notice thereof to every person in interest and
the agency, that the exemption of such records is clearly unnecessary to protect any
individual’s right of privacy or any vital governmental function.
(3) Agency responses refusing, in whole or in part, inspection of any public record
shall include a statement of the specific exemption authorizing the withholding of the
record (or part) and a brief explanation of how the exemption applies to the record
withheld.
The Attorney General’s “Model Rules” provides advisory guidance on redactions.
Specifically, WAC 44-14-04004, “Responsibilities of agency in providing records”
states in part:
(4) Failure to provide records. A “denial” of a request can occur when an agency:
Does not have the record;
Fails to respond to a request;
Claims an exemption of the entire record or a portion of it; or
Without justification, fails to provide the record after the reasonable estimate expires.
(b) Claiming exemptions.
	
(i) Redactions. If a portion of a record is exempt from disclosure, but the
remainder is not, an agency generally is required to redact (black out) the exempt
portion and then provide the remainder. RCW 42.17.310(2)/42.56.210(1). There
are a few exceptions. Withholding an entire record where only a portion of it is
exempt violates the act. Some records are almost entirely exempt but small portions
remain nonexempt. For example, information revealing the identity of a crime victim
is exempt from disclosure. RCW 42.17.310 (1)(e)/42.56.240(2). If a requestor
requested a police report in a case in which charges have been filed, the agency
must redact the victim’s identifying information but provide the rest of the report.
	
Statistical information “not descriptive of any readily identifiable person or persons” is
generally not subject to redaction or withholding. RCW 42.17.310(2)/42.56.210(1).
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For example, if a statute exempted the identity of a person who had been assessed
a particular kind of penalty, and an agency record showed the amount of penalties
assessed against various persons, the agency must provide the record with the
names of the persons redacted but with the penalty amounts remaining.
	
Originals should not be redacted. For paper records, an agency should redact
materials by first copying the record and then either using a black marker on the
copy or covering the exempt portions with copying tape, and then making a copy. It
is often a good practice to keep the initial copies which were redacted in case there
is a need to make additional copies for disclosure or to show what was redacted.
For electronic records such as data bases, an agency can sometimes redact a field
of exempt information by excluding it from the set of fields to be copied. However,
in some instances electronic redaction might not be feasible and a paper copy of
the record with traditional redaction might be the only way to provide the redacted
record. If a record is redacted electronically, by deleting a field of data or in any
other way, the agency must identify the redaction and state the basis for the claimed
exemption as required by RCW 42.56.210(3). See (b)(ii) of this subsection.
	
(ii) Brief explanation of withholding. When an agency claims an exemption
for an entire record or portion of one, it must inform the requestor of the statutory
exemption and provide a brief explanation of how the exemption applies to the record
or portion withheld. RCW 42.17.310(4)/42.56.210(3). The brief explanation should
cite the statute the agency claims grants an exemption from disclosure. The brief
explanation should provide enough information for a requestor to make a threshold
determination of whether the claimed exemption is proper. Nonspecific claims of
exemption such as “proprietary” or “privacy” are insufficient.
	
One way to properly provide a brief explanation of the withheld record or redaction is
for the agency to provide a withholding index. It identifies the type of record, its date
and number of pages, and the author or recipient of the record (unless their identity
is exempt). The withholding index need not be elaborate but should allow a requestor
to make a threshold determination of whether the agency has properly invoked the
exemption.
The Attorney General’s “Model Rules” provides advisory guidance on exemptions.
Specifically:
WAC 44-14-060 - Exemptions. (1) The Public Records Act provides that a number
of types of documents are exempt from public inspection and copying. In addition,
documents are exempt from disclosure if any “other statute” exempts or prohibits
disclosure. Requestors should be aware of the following exemptions, outside the
Public Records Act, that restrict the availability of some documents held by (name of
agency) for inspection and copying:
	
(2) The (agency) is prohibited by statute from disclosing lists of individuals for
commercial purposes.
[Statutory Authority: 2005 c 483 § 4, RCW 42.17.348. 06-04-079, § 44-14-060,
filed 1/31/06, effective 3/3/06.]
WAC 44-14-06001 - Agency must publish list of applicable exemptions. An
agency must publish and maintain a list of the “other statute” exemptions
from disclosure (that is, those exemptions found outside the Public Records
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Act) that it believes potentially exempt records it holds from disclosure. RCW
42.17.260(2)/42.56.070(2). The list is “for informational purposes” only and an
agency’s failure to list an exemption “shall not affect the efficacy of any exemption.”
RCW 42.17.260(2)/42.56.070(2). A list of possible “other statute” exemptions is
posted on the web site of the Municipal Research Service Center at www.mrsc.org/
Publications/prdpub04.pdf (scroll to Appendix C).
[Statutory Authority: 2005 c 483 § 4, RCW 42.17.348. 06-04-079, § 44-14-06001,
filed 1/31/06, effective 3/3/06.]
WAC 44-14-06002 - Summary of exemptions. (1) General. The act and other
statutes contain hundreds of exemptions from disclosure and dozens of court
cases interpret them. A full treatment of all exemptions is beyond the scope of the
model rules. Instead, these comments to the model rules provide general guidance
on exemptions and summarize a few of the most frequently invoked exemptions.
However, the scope of exemptions is determined exclusively by statute and case
law; the comments to the model rules merely provide guidance on a few of the most
common issues.
An exemption from disclosure will be narrowly construed in favor of disclosure. RCW
42.17.251/42.56.030. An exemption from disclosure must specifically exempt a
record or portion of a record from disclosure. RCW 42.17.260(1)/42.56.070(1). An
exemption will not be inferred.
An agency cannot define the scope of a statutory exemption through rule making
or policy. An agency agreement or promise not to disclose a record cannot make
a disclosable record exempt from disclosure. RCW 42.17.260(1)/42.56.070(1).
Any agency contract regarding the disclosure of records should recite that the act
controls.
An agency must describe why each withheld record or redacted portion of a record
is exempt from disclosure. RCW 42.17.310(4)/42.56.210(4). One way to describe
why a record was withheld or redacted is by using a withholding index.
After invoking an exemption in its response, an agency may revise its original claim of
exemption in a response to a motion to show cause.
Exemptions are “permissive rather than mandatory.” Op. Att’y Gen. 1 (1980), at
5. Therefore, an agency has the discretion to provide an exempt record. However,
in contrast to a waivable “exemption,” an agency cannot provide a record when a
statute makes it “confidential” or otherwise prohibits disclosure. For example, the
Health Care Information Act generally prohibits the disclosure of medical information
without the patient’s consent. RCW 70.02.020(1). If a statute classifies information
as “confidential” or otherwise prohibits disclosure, an agency has no discretion to
release a record or the confidential portion of it. Some statutes provide civil and
criminal penalties for the release of particular “confidential” records. See RCW
82.32.330(5) (release of certain state tax information a misdemeanor).
(2) “Privacy” exemption. There is no general “privacy” exemption. Op. Att’y Gen.
12 (1988). However, a few specific exemptions incorporate privacy as one of the
elements of the exemption. For example, personal information in agency employee
files is exempt to the extent that disclosure would violate the employee’s right to
“privacy.” RCW 42.17.310 (1)(b)/42.56.210 (1)(b). “Privacy” is then one of the
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elements, in addition to the others in RCW 42.17.310 (1)(b)/42.56.210 (1)(b), that an
agency or a third party resisting disclosure must prove.
“Privacy” is defined in RCW 42.17.255/42.56.050 as the disclosure of information
that “(1) Would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (2) is not of legitimate
concern to the public.” This is a two-part test requiring the party seeking to prevent
disclosure to prove both elements.
	
Because “privacy” is not a stand-alone exemption, an agency cannot claim RCW
42.17.255/42.56.050 as an exemption.
(3) Attorney-client privilege. The attorney-client privilege statute, RCW 5.60.060 (2)
(a), is an “other statute” exemption from disclosure. In addition, RCW 42.17.310
(1)(j)/42.56.210 (1)(j) exempts attorney work-product involving a “controversy,”
which means completed, existing, or reasonably anticipated litigation involving the
agency. The exact boundaries of the attorney-client privilege and work-product
doctrine is beyond the scope of these comments. However, in general, the attorneyclient privilege covers records reflecting communications transmitted in confidence
between a public official or employee of a public agency acting in the performance
of his or her duties and an attorney serving in the capacity of legal advisor for the
purpose of rendering or obtaining legal advice, and records prepared by the attorney
in furtherance of the rendition of legal advice. The attorney-client privilege does not
exempt records merely because they reflect communications in meetings where legal
counsel was present or because a record or copy of a record was provided to legal
counsel if the other elements of the privilege are not met. A guidance document
prepared by the attorney general’s office on the attorney-client privilege and workproduct doctrine is available at www.atg.wa.gov/records/modelrules.
(4) Deliberative process exemption. RCW 42.17.310 (1)(i)/42.56.210 (1)(i) exempts
“Preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, and intra-agency memorandums in
which opinions are expressed or policies formulated or recommended” except if the
record is cited by the agency.
In order to rely on this exemption, an agency must show that the records contain
predecisional opinions or recommendations of subordinates expressed as part
of a deliberative process; that disclosure would be injurious to the deliberative
or consultative function of the process; that disclosure would inhibit the flow of
recommendations, observations, and opinions; and finally, that the materials
covered by the exemption reflect policy recommendations and opinions and not
the raw factual data on which a decision is based. Courts have held that this
exemption is “severely limited” by its purpose, which is to protect the free flow of
opinions by policy makers. It applies only to those portions of a record containing
recommendations, opinions, and proposed policies; it does not apply to factual data
contained in the record. The exemption does not apply to records or portions of
records concerning the implementation of policy or the factual basis for the policy.
The exemption does not apply merely because a record is called a “draft” or stamped
“draft.” Recommendations that are actually implemented lose their protection from
disclosure after they have been adopted by the agency.
(5) “Overbroad” exemption. There is no “overbroad” exemption. RCW
42.17.270/42.56.080. See WAC 44-14-04002(3).
(6) Commercial use exemption. The act does not allow an agency to provide
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access to “lists of individuals requested for commercial purposes.” RCW
42.17.260(9)/42.56.070(9). An agency may require a requestor to sign a
declaration that he or she will not put a list of individuals in the record to use for
a commercial purpose. This authority is limited to a list of individuals, not a list
of companies. A requestor who signs a declaration promising not to use a list of
individuals for a commercial purpose, but who then violates this declaration, could
arguably be charged with the crime of false swearing. RCW 9A.72.040.
(7) Trade secrets. Many agencies hold sensitive proprietary information of
businesses they regulate. For example, an agency might require an applicant for a
regulatory approval to submit designs for a product it produces. A record is exempt
from disclosure if it constitutes a “trade secret” under the Uniform Trade Secrets
Act, chapter 19.108 RCW. However, the definition of a “trade secret” can be very
complex and often the facts showing why the record is or is not a trade secret are
only known by the potential holder of the trade secret who submitted the record in
question.
When an agency receives a request for a record that might be a trade secret, often it
does not have enough information to determine whether the record arguably qualifies
as a “trade secret.” An agency is allowed additional time under the act to determine
if an exemption might apply. RCW 42.17.320/42.56.520.
When an agency cannot determine whether a requested record contains a “trade
secret,” usually it should communicate with the requestor that the agency is providing
the potential holder of the trade secret an opportunity to object to the disclosure.
The agency should then contact the potential holder of the trade secret in question
and state that the record will be released in a certain amount of time unless the
holder files a court action seeking an injunction prohibiting the agency from disclosing
the record under RCW 42.17.330/42.56.540. Alternatively, the agency can ask the
potential holder of the trade secret for an explanation of why it contends the record is
a trade secret, and state that if the record is not a trade secret or otherwise exempt
from disclosure that the agency intends to release it. The agency should inform the
potential holder of a trade secret that its explanation will be shared with the requestor.
The explanation can assist the agency in determining whether it will claim the trade
secret exemption. If the agency concludes that the record is arguably not exempt, it
should provide a notice of intent to disclose unless the potential holder of the trade
secret obtains an injunction preventing disclosure under RCW 42.17.330/42.56.540.
As a general matter, many agencies do not assert the trade secret exemption on
behalf of the potential holder of the trade secret but rather allow the potential holder
to seek an injunction.
All entity records are available for review by the public unless a law specifically
exempts them from disclosure. If no exemption applies, the requested record must
be disclosed. Further, public entities are not relieved of their obligations to respond
to requests for public records because a portion of the document is exempt. Public
entities have a duty to redact specific information covered by an exemption and
disclose the remainder of the document. The Public Records Act provides that
exemptions are to be narrowly construed.
A good faith response by a public agency in releasing a public record absolves the
agency or any public official or employee from liability arising from the disclosure. For
example, an individual named in a public record may not hold a public agency liable
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for a good faith release of that record on the grounds that disclosure violates the
an individual’s “right to privacy.” Agencies that release records with possible privacy
implications may wish to contact the individual.
Washington courts have not defined specifically which records, if released, could
violate a right of privacy; however, for example, residential addresses and telephone
numbers for state employees are specifically exempt under state law.
The Public Records Act (RCW 42.56) lists 34 categories of public records that are
exempt from disclosure. These are exemptions, not prohibitions; an agency may
waive an exemption if it chooses to do so.
Other state laws specifically prohibit the release of some information. And many
documents contain some information that is exempt along with other information that
is not exempt.
It is estimated that more than 300 exemptions are contained in state law. To address
whether these exemptions are still necessary, the 2007 Legislature created a
Sunshine Committee to recommend whether each one should be continued without
modification, modified, scheduled for sunset review at a future date, or terminated.
Additional information about the Sunshine Committee can be found at: http://www.
atg.wa.gov/opengovernment/sunshine.aspx

CRITERIA – Finding 4
We calculated the average response time for each entity type and for each
request within that entity type. Using the average response time, we identified
entity responses that were less timely than their peers. Once identified, the
correspondence was examined to determine if the entity was aware the request
was delayed and if the reason(s) was provided to the requestor. We then sought to
identify the specific causes associated with each less timely response.
We identified the top-performing entities, based upon our unannounced requests as
performance criteria. Those “top” performers can be found in the Overview of Audit
Results section of this report. Top performing entities provided requested records
more quickly than other counties, cities and agencies included in this audit.
The citations made below are either in whole or in part as they relate to the subject
matter of the finding. Emphasis, as indicated by underline or bold font, has been
added.
Legal Criteria addressing “fullest assistance” and “most timely possible action”:
RCW 42.56.100 - Protection of public records--Public access. Agencies shall adopt
and enforce reasonable rules and regulations, and the office of the secretary of the
senate and the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives shall adopt
reasonable procedures allowing for the time, resource, and personnel constraints
associated with legislative sessions, consonant with the intent of this chapter to
provide full public access to public records, to protect public records from damage or
disorganization, and to prevent excessive interference with other essential functions
of the agency, the office of the secretary of the senate, or the office of the chief
clerk of the house of representatives. Such rules and regulations shall provide for the
fullest assistance to inquirers and the most timely possible action on requests for
information. Nothing in this section shall relieve agencies, the office of the secretary
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of the senate, and the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives from
honoring requests received by mail for copies of identifiable public records.
RCW 42.56.520 - Prompt responses required. Responses to requests for public
records shall be made promptly by agencies, the office of the secretary of the
senate, and the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives. Within five
business days of receiving a public record request, an agency, the office of the
secretary of the senate, or the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives
must respond by either (1) providing the record; (2) acknowledging that the agency,
the office of the secretary of the senate, or the office of the chief clerk of the house
of representatives has received the request and providing a reasonable estimate of
the time the agency, the office of the secretary of the senate, or the office of the
chief clerk of the house of representatives will require to respond to the request;
or (3) denying the public record request. Additional time required to respond to a
request may be based upon the need to clarify the intent of the request, to locate and
assemble the information requested, to notify third persons or agencies affected by
the request, or to determine whether any of the information requested is exempt and
that a denial should be made as to all or part of the request. In acknowledging receipt
of a public record request that is unclear, an agency, the office of the secretary of
the senate, or the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives may ask
the requestor to clarify what information the requestor is seeking. If the requestor
fails to clarify the request, the agency, the office of the secretary of the senate, or
the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives need not respond to it.
Denials of requests must be accompanied by a written statement of the specific
reasons therefor. Agencies, the office of the secretary of the senate, and the office
of the chief clerk of the house of representatives shall establish mechanisms for the
most prompt possible review of decisions denying inspection, and such review shall
be deemed completed at the end of the second business day following the denial of
inspection and shall constitute final agency action or final action by the office of the
secretary of the senate or the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives
for the purposes of judicial review.
RCW 42.56.050 - Invasion of privacy, when. A person’s “right to privacy,” “right of
privacy,” “privacy,” or “personal privacy,” as these terms are used in this chapter, is
invaded or violated only if disclosure of information about the person: (1) Would be
highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (2) is not of legitimate concern to the
public. The provisions of this chapter dealing with the right to privacy in certain public
records do not create any right of privacy beyond those rights that are specified in
this chapter as express exemptions from the public’s right to inspect, examine, or
copy public records.
RCW 42.56.550 – Judicial review of agency actions - states in part:
(4) Any person who prevails against an agency in any action in the courts seeking
the right to inspect or copy any public record or the right to receive a response to a
public record request within a reasonable amount of time shall be awarded all costs,
including reasonable attorney fees, incurred in connection with such legal action. In
addition, it shall be within the discretion of the court to award such person an amount
not less than five dollars and not to exceed one hundred dollars for each day that he
or she was denied the right to inspect or copy said public record.

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