Well, knock me over with a feather: I actually agree with the Seattle Times editorial board. What's more, not only do I think the Times is right, I disagree with Comrade Goldy over at Horse's Ass—and about a public-disclosure issue.
Today, the Times editorializes against a set of bills I wrote about as part of my legislative wrapup a few weeks ago that would make it harder to access public records. The first would allow government agencies to deny a public records request if the person making the request owed the agency money; the second would increase the cost of copying public records to as much as 25 cents per page; and the third would allow an agency to charge someone for copies even if the person didn't pick them up. All are sponsored by Sen. Darlene Fairley (D-41).
The Times writes:
These measures are particularly galling during a recession and a disturbing decrease in the corps of journalists who traditionally play watchdog over government. [...]
The worst of the bad bunch is SB 5250, which would increase the maximum per-page copying charge from 15 to 25 cents. That adds up — a 100-page document would cost $25. A friendly representative of a local Kinkos said Friday such a document would cost only $9 if brought to her shop.
Hardly seems right that public agencies would be making such a profit off documents to which citizens are entitled. Though municipal lobbyists suggest the higher fee would offset costs of staff time in fulfilling the request, that is expressly prohibited by the state's Open Records Act.
A better idea? Require cities, counties, ports and school districts to better manage their records. Why not make documents available by e-mail or copying them on to a disc — pennies a serving — even less if the requester provides the disc.
Goldy argues that the "many hours of staff time" it takes to fill records requests should be compensated, and argues that every single public record maintained by government agencies should be put in computer files for the public to sift through themselves. The logic is tortured: Government agencies provide a valuable service we should pay them for (sifting through records to fill requests), therefore we should get rid of that service entirely and make people who file records requests find the records they want themselves. Not to mention the fact that most agencies don't have a surplus of public-disclosure staff; in my experience, most government agencies only employ one public-disclosure officer. Is Goldy really arguing that we should eliminate that position from every government agency?
Goldy's right about one thing—the claim that government agencies are making a killing off copy charges is classic Seattle Times anti-government hoohah. However, the rest of the editorial is spot-on: The government has a responsibility to provide public records at a cost that's reasonable, and not to put up any unnecessary barriers to those records.