By Josh Kelety
As promised, the Seattle Community College District (SCCD) has recently released their proposed policy changes regarding citizen records requests, changes which could limit public access to vital information. The proposal was submitted to the Washington State Register, a publicly accessible directory of past, current, and pending state legislation. While the ideas for these amendments have been circulating SCCD administrative circles for some time, the recently published draft is final and official, and has only to withstand an upcoming public hearing and gain the approval of the SCCD Board of Trustee’s before being implemented as soon as March 13th.
WSR 13-17-005 (the numerical amendment title), contains only a few subtle tweaks to the pre-existing Washington Administrative Code administrative rules and regulations (WAC). However even these small changes have cause for concern with their potentially damning effect on the fluidity of public access to records. Below are screen shots of the notable parts of the proposal. For past New City Collegian reporting on the subject click here.
The petition process would potentially give SCCD full and final authority on any disputed record request denials. The wording does allow for review on a case-by-case basis via SCCD’s state appointed attorney or a judicial court, but these avenues are seemingly more of deterrents to the petitioner than assets.
Perhaps the most worrying portion of the policy changes is the roping off of ‘trade secrets’ and information that SCCD deems to be ‘not in the public interest’, damaging to ‘any person’, or harmful to the ‘functionality’ of ‘vital governmental functions’. Trade secrets refer to any records that refer to and are considered confidential by various the companies SCCD colleges employ to provide services. The fourth exemption is a alarmingly broad category, giving SCCD the power to pick and choose what information they don’t want made public, under the guise of not being in the ‘public interest’ or disrupting the day to day activities of admins. Who gave them the authority to define the public interest in the first place?
Costs for copies is reasonable enough, and within the legal boundaries of the Public Records Act. However, past New City Collegian reporting unearthed communications between SCCD admins that suggest the new charges are intended to be yet another roadblock to prevent ‘nosey’ public inquiries.
A public hearing on the WAC changes will take place on February 3rd at the Broadway Performance Hall at Seattle Central Community College from 3:30-4:30 PM. Written comments by the public prior to the hearing can be submitted to the SCCD Public Records Officer Amanda Simpfenderfer via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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