This morning, I came across a post from an attorney friend at the Attorney General’s Office on my Facebook feed that read:
That collective groan you just heard from every state employee was from a Public Records Act request for every email from all state agencies. Someone just commandeered thousands (tens/hundreds of thousands?) of hours of public employees’ time at no cost to themselves. #DoomsdayRequest
(The news story he was referencing is available here). Several government attorneys chimed in with their own issues with the Washington Public Records Act (PRA), reflecting the frustration shared by agencies, school districts, and attorneys representing public entities statewide. Every public attorney I’ve spoken to agrees that transparency is critical to our democratic society, but too many of us have seen firsthand the dysfunctional side of the PRA and watched our already under-funded public clients struggle to comply with the far-reaching and high-stakes PRA, certainly one of the most aggressive pieces of transparency legislation in the country.
Developing systems to properly respond to a PRA request is perhaps the clearest embodiment of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It is absolutely critical that school districts and new charter schools have their systems and protocols clearly established to avoid the massive time and resource pitfalls inherent to the PRA.