EDITOR’S NOTE: An additional story – focusing on homelessness – from Monday night’s Burien City Council will be posted soon. By Jack Mayne The Burien City Council on Monday unanimously voted to hire a full-time person to set up an efficient program and make public records available to the public when demanded under the state’s open meetings and records laws. Public records requests are an ongoing problem of many cities, and in Burien requests for public records are often delayed and city officials say that outstrips the ability of the Burien staff to fulfill them. Council unanimously approved the new full-time employee because there is money available with funds budgeted for other reasons but not used. City Council approves new employee to handle public records requests 1‘A little haphazard’ Interim City Manager Tony Piasecki told Councilmembers that when he took the interim city manager job last fall, public records “caught my eye” because citizens “have a right to know what you (City Council) are doing on their behalf and that includes every record we create with some very limited and narrow exceptions.” Piasecki said when he looked at how Burien manages records, “I became concerned.” The process to respond to records requests is “a little bit haphazard” with two or three people working on fulfilling requests and the city attorney needs to be more involved because the law says that certain information should not be released. Councilmember Stephen Armstrong wanted to know if Tweets or Facebook postings would be included and if they were included under the open meetings act. Piasecki said they would and a better system to find and maintain them must be set up. Any social media use by Councilmembers and staff would be considered a public record unless it is one of the “very narrow” exemptions, he said. The public ones must be kept and categorized for ease to find when requested. “If somebody is texting back and forth to the city attorney a legal question, that may be exempt because it is attorney-client privilege.” He said the city is not doing a good job in managing social media and he would ask a new employee to include that in a work plan. Public request volume Tosta wondered why the volume of requests was lower than some other cities and noted a table that showed a three year average of 187 requests compared with 265 for Des Moines or 1,955 for Lakewood in Pierce County. A full-time person is needed because there are requests that are more complex and take more time which are included in Burien’s request backlog. Some requests include thousands of pages of material. The number of requests is going up and the nature of them is “growing more and more complex,” Piasecki said, adding that the issue is managing the records so they are accessible and that the city is following state law. He also said there were software options the city needs to consider in helping maintain and release records to requesters. “Sometimes it takes longer than it should to get those requests done,” Piasecki said. Phoning it in Councilmember Debi Wagner, at the opening of Monday’s regular meeting, moved to add to the agenda a motion that would require Councilmembers to be physically present at meetings for their votes to count. She proposed a motion that “members must be physically present and seated at the dais for their vote to be counted.” The motion was greeted with loud cheers and applause from the audience in the packed Council chambers. Wagner said the wording was patterned after state rules. A state law stated that any Councilmember who physically misses more than three sessions without permission may be stripped of Council membership and replaced by a newly appointed member.City Council approves new employee to handle public records requests 2 Councilmember Nancy Tosta, often a supporter of Lauren Berkowitz’ proposals, wanted to know why this should come up at a March session when Council rules are slated for discussion of guidelines on April 3, two weeks later. Tosta said “we have a very large agenda tonight” with many people present to discuss homelessness. “I am reluctant to add anything to this already very robust agenda,” said Tosta. Wagner noted such “out of order” business has been allowed before, noting the recent action to remove public correspondence from inclusion with the agenda. Councilmember Stephen Armstrong said “I have a day job and I travel for that day job and sometimes I take vacations and something like this is going to prohibit me from calling in – I’m kind of uncomfortable with that,” suggesting the matter wait until April 4. Berkowitz – on the telephone as usual – said the action was “because certain Councilmembers don’t like my opinions” and there was an agenda of over 400 pages and that she opposed amending the agenda to add Wagner’s motion. Mayor Lucy Krakowiak and Councilmember Bob Edgar supported adding the Wagner motion, but Council voted 4 to 3 not to add it.]]>