Open Letter to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Open Letter to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan

May 18, 2021
To:  Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan
From:  The Washington Coalition for Open Government
Re:  Request to Release Unredacted Ethics Report

Dear Mayor Durkan,

The Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting the public’s right to know about government. WCOG rigorously advocates for transparency at all levels of government, particularly among elected officials.

WCOG is  deeply  troubled  by  the  recent Ethics  and  Elections Commission finding that your counsel Michelle Chen violated the Public Records Act by narrowly interpreting requests to exclude your text messages. Equally concerning are the revelations that you allowed ten months of your text messages to be destroyed and that this destruction was concealed from records requesters.

The May 6 report by the Ethics and Elections Commission does not address important questions about your own records retention practices and the extent to which you maintain oversight and control of your staff. Further shrouding your accountability in this matter, some of the details of your staff’s conduct and/or reasoning are redacted. Ethics Director Wayne Barnett explained in a letter to you: “Portions of the report contain material that constitutes attorney-client privileged communications provided in the context of an attorney-client relationship with the City Attorney’s Office. I have redacted those portions from the public version of the report; only you, City Attorney [Pete] Holmes, Ms. Chen, and [whistleblower Stacy] Irwin are receiving unredacted versions of the report.” Mr. Barnett’s letter states that the unredacted version of the ethics report should be treated as privileged unless privilege is waived by the Mayor’s Office.

WCOG has no way to ascertain if the redacted content is truly privileged, but assuming Mr. Barnett’s characterization is correct, you have an obligation to the citizens of Seattle to waive the privilege and release the unredacted version of the report. Only you can do this. The destroyed text messages spanned a tumultuous period of historical importance when actions and inactions of Seattle police captured the world’s attention. Your office covered up the destruction of text messages from records requesters and others who would hold the city accountable. If not for whistleblowing public servants, that destruction and cover-up might still be concealed. It is time to be fully transparent. This goes to the heart of your relationship with the voters and taxpayers of the city, as well as your legacy as mayor.

Please release the unredacted ethics report to the public. Thanks for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Michael R. Fancher
WCOG President