The Stranger Editorial: Why We Are Calling for an Audit of Private E-mail Use at the City (of Seattle)

City employees in the mayor’s office and possibly the City Council appear to be conducting government business on private e-mail accounts and failing to disclose these communications through public records requests, so we’re doing something about it.

Earlier this month we signed onto a letter calling for an audit examining the use of private e-mails by city officials in Seattle. Reporters have recently exposed city officials using private e-mails to discuss city business with political consultants. The city then appeared to intentionally withhold those records from record requests. We only know about these communications because the city was forced to hand over the records in a lawsuit.

Lawsuits should not be the primary tool for making the city follow the law; the law itself should be compelling enough to the mayor and the City Council. The mayor’s office and City Council staff appear to either not know the open records law or not care. Both are bad and raise serious problems for our government.

Good government policy comes from open governments. When special interests or policy discussions are obscured from the public, bad policies and corruption are often the outcomes. Breaking the law can also cost the city huge amounts of money in lawsuits where the city is forced to pay penalties for not following its own rules. We think government discussions should be conducted openly and not obscured from public records requests. So both of us, along with a few other local journalists are calling for an investigation.

We want an audit.  (Read more...)