More than 1,500 subscribers to the quarterly “Update on Edmonds” newsletter and City of Edmonds news releases were informed late Thursday that their contact information is about to be released as part of a public records request initiated by Edmonds City Councilmember Kristiana Johnson.
The notification came in an email from the City Clerk’s office, which went on to say that anyone wishing to not have their information disclosed would need to seek a court injunction prohibiting release of that record, and advises anyone wishing to do this to “consult with your own legal counsel.”
My Edmonds News and the city clerk have received a number of questions from citizens expressing concern that their personal information is about to be released, and that their only recourse to stop this is to retain an attorney and file for a injunction in Superior Court.
Johnson is running to retain the council seat she has held since 2012. She is being challenged by Edmonds resident Josh Thompson.
Johnson told My Edmonds News by phone late Friday afternoon that her reason for the request was to obtain email addresses of citizens with an interest in city government to whom she could send information about her positions on the various issues in the upcoming campaign.
“It was strictly for campaign informational purposes, not fundraising,” she said. “I saw this as an environmentally-friendly alternative to a traditional mailer that would not produce a lot of waste paper and have the added benefit of saving production and postage costs. In this digital age it seems to make sense; it seems like the smart way to do it.
“I’ve never made a public records request before,” she added. “I completed the request online, and wasn’t aware that it would trigger a blanket email to everyone affected. The email that went out from the clerk’s office looked so formal and intimidating. I was shocked when I read it.”
Here is the full text of the email:
Dear Madams and Sirs,
The City of Edmonds has received a request for public records dated September 17, 2017 from Kristiana Johnson for the following:
“I would like a digital copy (on thumb drive or disk) of the complete e-mail distribution list for the City’s online email newsletter called “Update on Edmonds,” and the distribution list for the City News Releases.”
You are named in one or more records responsive to this request, or one or more of the responsive records pertains to you. RCW 42.56.540 authorizes a person named in a requested public record or to whom the record pertains to seek an injunction from the superior court prohibiting the release of that record.
The City plans to release the requested records on October 5, 2017. They will be released to the requester and available on our GovQA website for public viewing.
If you desire to seek a court injunction preventing the release of the records, please consult with your own legal counsel for this purpose. If you do not plan to challenge the release of the records, please respond to this email as soon as possible, so that the City may proceed with prompt release of the records.
Should you have any questions, please feel free to respond to this email or call the City Clerk’s office at (425) 775-2525.
According to City Clerk Scott Passey, by subscribing to these lists a citizen’s contact information becomes part of the public record and as such is subject to disclosure under the various provisions of the Washington State Public Records Act, RCW 42.56.
“Since it is part of the public record, we are required under the law to release this information,” said Passey in an email to My Edmonds News. “However, it is our practice to provide notice to those whose information will be released. The reason we provide this kind of notice for lists of names, addresses, etc., is because the people who originally provided their information by subscribing to the city newsletter, etc., generally do not expect their information to be used for anything other than the intended purpose. If the person or persons object to the release of these records, they have the option of filing an injunction in Superior Court to prevent disclosure of the record. Our practice is to allow approximately ten business days from receipt of the notice to serve a court injunction. If an injunction is received by our office, the city will abide by the injunction and not release the record.”
Passey went on to explain that the law does allow withholding of records if the stated intent is to use this information for commercial purposes.
But there’s a Catch 22.
“The law prohibits us from proactively asking the requestor how records will be used or why they are being requested,” he continued. “So in order for us to withhold a record on this basis, the requestor needs to state this intent upfront.”
Political campaigns are not considered commercial purposes under the law.
According to Passey, Johnson’s request includes 1,583 email addresses.
Johnson said late Friday that she is now considering withdrawing her public records request.
“It’s absolutely not my intention to hurt anyone,” she said. “I just want to get my message out.”
— By Larry Vogel