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Government Transparency and the Global Pandemic -- A Message from the Board of Directors

While the coronavirus pandemic is teaching us new ways of interacting (or NOT interacting) with our fellow citizens, it should also remind us of the urgency and necessity of access to government information. As we face the likelihood of several more weeks of social distancing, and perhaps a brave new world of societal changes, it is important that openness and transparency in government continue to be of the utmost importance as we approach our “new normal.” Constant vigilance is required so our elected officials remember that transparency is the cornerstone of our very democracy.

Washington State residents have a lot to be thankful for. Although we have the distinction of housing the very first case of the virus in the U.S. and health officials warn we should stay at home for the time being, it appears strong social distancing measures have worked in leveling our rate of infection. In addition, our state’s top leaders seem committed to transparency at all levels of government during this unprecedented time of video-conferencing and virtual meetings. We applaud Washington Governor Jay Inslee for amending his original State of Emergency Proclamation to include procedures for government transparency.

Proclamation 20-28 reaffirms that “transparency is an important state policy.” It prohibits in-person meetings of governing bodies for safety, but requires “options for the public to attend the proceedings through, at minimum, telephonic access or other remote access.” It also prohibits unnecessary “action” until “regular public participation under the OPMA is possible.” Although it suspends the requirement for an initial response within five business days, it maintains the over-arching duty to “promptly” disclose records upon request.

Governor’s Proclamation on open meetings and public records during a State of Emergency

While many states have taken similar action, some states have effectively halted public records access.

Indeed, the experience during the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” emergency demonstrates both the importance of ensuring that all members of the public and media can either listen to or observe a meeting of our elected officials and how easy it is to ensure this transparency in local elected bodies of all sizes. The Coalition urges local governments continue to make their meetings of elected officials available to people who cannot attend in person.

Now, more than ever, information from government is critical. The Coalition will continue to serve as watchdog to ensure our right to know, even in a global pandemic. In addition to keeping a watchful eye on state and local governments, here is an update on the status of some of our activities:

  • Nominations are now open for our annual awards recognizing efforts to promote government transparency. The annual Madison Andersen Bunting Awards breakfast is tentatively scheduled for Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. The James Madison Award honors long-term commitment to the cause of open government. The James Andersen Award recognizes extraordinary commitment to WCOG efforts. The Kenneth F. Bunting Award celebrates outstanding journalism involving use of sunshine laws.
  • The 2020 Scott Johnson High School Essay Contest deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 30. The contest is open to all 9th- to 12th-graders in Washington state. Click on Awards/Essay Contest for all rules and entry requirements.
  • WCOG is launching a Virtual Speakers Program, offering to meet via videoconferencing with classes, organizations and other online learning events.

As always, the Coalition survives because of donors and supporters like you. If you are able and willing, contributions during this difficult time are greatly appreciated. If you believe in the importance of government transparency, join us. Become a member or donor and help us keep our leaders’ feet to the fire when it comes to openness in government.

Message from Executive Director Juli Bunting on WCOG’s 2020 priorities

Click below to see the 2019 Winners of WCOG’s Madison-Andersen-Bunting Awards:

Judge William Downing
Former King County Superior Court Judge & Former
Chair of the Bench-Bar-Press Liaison Committee

For his long-term commitment to the cause of open government. Downing served as chair of the Bench-Bar-Press Liaison Committee for more than 16 years, mediating numerous disputes that balanced interests involving access to public records.

Elly Walker
former executive director, Washington Coalition for Open Government

Recognized for her care of the Coalition above and beyond its role as her client by receiving the James Andersen Award, given for advancing the efforts of WCOG. Anderson, a former chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court, was a founding board member of the Coalition.

Eli Sanders
Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist, The Stranger

For his investigation into online campaign ads in light of Washington state’s regulations and disclosure laws. One result of his reporting of dozens of stories in The Stranger was lawsuits against Facebook and Google by the state Attorney General, and a $425,000 settlement for the companies’ failure to follow Washington access laws – and their decision to stop selling political ads in the state because of its tough disclosure rules.

Transparency and public participation are building blocks of good government.

The Coalition was formed to act as an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated promoting and defending the People’s right to know in matters of public interest and in the conduct of the public’s business. The Coalition’s driving vision is to help foster open government processes, supervised by an informed and engaged citizenry, which is the cornerstone of democracy.

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