WCOG warns San Juan County of needless records expenses

Submitted by The Washington Coalition for Open Government.

The Washington Coalition for Open Government has warned San Juan County Council members that the county is needlessly driving up its expenses by withholding public records and using aggressive litigation to keep the information secret.

In a letter to the council members sent Nov. 16, WCOG President Mike Hancher said the count; “is unnecessarily incurring significant liability under the Public Records Act … by continuing to withhold or excessively and improperly redact attorney invoices requested by WCOG.”

The county’s actions are creating unnecessary work for its employees and needlessly piling up expenses that its citizens will have to pay. Neither is in the best interest of San Juan County residents.

The Washington state Legislature in 2007 made clear that attorney invoices to their government clients are public records for which only very limited redactions are allowed.

Yet San Juan County followed neither the spirt nor the letter of the law in April 2020, when WCOG requested records for the outside attorneys who represented the county on another public records case. The county produced more than 70 pages of invoices from which all of the information about the legal services provided by outside attorneys was redacted.

WCOG then sued San Juan County for improperly redacting its attorney invoices in violaticn of state law. The case is ongoing. More than 18 months later, we still do not have the records.

Meanwhile, San Juan County continues to rack up legal bills unnecessarily, and the penalty clock under the Pubic Records Act keeps ticking. The public, of course, is left in the dark.