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

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.

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.