Councilmember’s public records request raises citizen concerns

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    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.

    Kristiana Johnson

    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

     

     

     

    24 COMMENTS

    1. Johnson should immediately withdraw her request. We never opted in to her election campaign communications, she should have no right (at the very least, ethically) to obtain my personal info through this back door.

      • Ms Johnson should withdraw her request. Think about it. People on this list already have an interest in what is going on in Edmonds. They will find out where she stands on their own. Furthermore, other candidates will begin their own requests for information. Use MEN and other media please!

    2. Thank you to My Edmonds News for investigating this.

      To make a request like this and not understand the process or impact is ignorant on her part and if she acts and thinks in this way I’m not interested in hearing her thoughts on any matter. And NOW I have to spend my time and dollars to protect my privacy. Thanks Ms. Johnson, I’ll be sure to remember your name come election time. Do the right thing and withdraw the request.

    3. Johnson should remove her request! It is an underhanded way to get emails for her own purpose. I did not expect my email to be given out to polititicans when I signed up to get city info. How rude and naive of her to think this is a good idea on her part.

    4. Can’t think of a better way to dissuade folks from trying to become informed about Edmonds issues than to have their contact information handed off to any politician who petitions for it. Withdraw your request, Ms. Johnson. Do your campaigning the old-fashioned way: knock on doors, attend public forums, put up some signs, recruit volunteers. Leave us out of your email blasts.

    5. This is ridiculous and she needs to withdraw this request immediately. Not only that, she better understand there is a law on “opt in” and she can’t willy nilly email anyone if they didn’t sign up for her emails. Good grief. Talk about a move to lose votes if she had them. People opted in to certain things they have interest in and others can’t just steal their info unbeknownst to them to get their info to use it for their own purpose.

    6. Whatever your opinion of Ms. Johnson’s request, this is a lesson for all of us. Any time you communicate with a government or public official your information is public, even if it is face to face and only notes are taken. We often approve, when we hear that the Seattle Times etc., has submitted a Public Records Request to this or that governmental body. We forget that request can, and often does, cover what we consider our private information. Phone logs, emails, campaign, files, party affiliations, etc. etc., are all available to anyone who requests. Requests for tens of thousands of documents, sometimes from the beginning of a city, are filed and many governments have spent vast sums to fill these requests. We citizens celebrate open government, it is essential to a free society, but we need to remember it’s implementation is is a double edged sword.

    7. Amazing that a Councilmember would submit a public records request ( which the Council has repeatedly complained about ordinary citizens doing) for information about those she wants to vote for her. In essence the cost of fulfilling the public records request can be viewed as a taxpayer contribution to her campaign since she will be using that public information system to her own benefit and it is free to her. Let’s hope it is declared as such in her campaign’s financial filings. The City has no option but to fulfill the request but Ms Johnson should have known better than to use the City resources in such a manner.

    8. A lot of very good comments about this issue. I wonder at election time if the story is not politically motivated? Our city routinely receives numerous questionable voluminous public records requests that I’ve never seen publicized.

      • This started when two people who write for My Edmonds News received messages from the City Clerk, which were sent to all citizens on the mailing lists. From there, we contacted the City Clerk to find out the details. Along the way, other citizens began contacting us to ask the same question.

          • They were signed up for the city newsletter and received the same message that all others received — and they wondered why they were getting such a message.

        • Actually it is good reporting on the part of MyEdmondsNews. And this type of use of City resources ( and goodwill in having newsletters) not to mention tax payer dollars to provide Ms Johnson with the information is precisely the kind of information that readers should know. Well done Teresa. Of course it is political but this involves questionable campaign tactics and should be publicized.

          • Seems as though this RCW applies regarding Ms Johnson’ request;
            RCW 42.56.050
            Invasion of privacy, when.
            A person’s “right to privacy,” “right of privacy,” “privacy,” or “personal privacy,” as these terms are used in this chapter, is invaded or violated only if disclosure of information about the person: (1) Would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (2) is not of legitimate concern to the public. The provisions of this chapter dealing with the right to privacy in certain public records do not create any right of privacy beyond those rights that are specified in this chapter as express exemptions from the public’s right to inspect, examine, or copy public records.
            [ 1987 c 403 § 2. Formerly RCW 42.17.255.]

        • I received this public request for information letter. When you go to the edmondswa.gov website, there is a very simply subscribe option that does not disclose to the subscriber what may or may not happen with your email address. This is a failure on the City not to disclose that your voluntary subscription may prompt your information going public if requested by a 3rd party. And that you would have to spend time/money on an attorney to protect. This is a privacy and policy failure that Ms Johnson’s lack of understanding of the process made public to all of us.

    9. Ms. Johnson’s choice to use city employees labor and peoples private email accounts to further her political ambitions tell me all I need to know about her. I will vote against her. If she ever runs unopposed, I will write in an alternative. Just disgusting.

    10. I would like you to know that I rescinded my public records request. I truly apologize for any grief I may have causes you. I am very sorry.

      There is more to the story but that does not matter right now. The most important thing for you to know is that your personal email will not be used by me nor will it be reported on the City’s website. In this day and age our right to privacy is the most important issue. I get that. Again, I apologize.

      • Rather than assert “there is more to the story” either tell the whole story or accept fault and apologize without the “more to the story” line.

    11. This agency is in the wrong and should not be allowed to generate fear for no good reason. If the agency has no claim of exemption then the public doesn’t either and consulting an attorney will afford you nothing but a bill. If the agency has a claim of exemption then they should have used it and not attempted to get out of the request simply by causing public fear. Had the agency not put out a press release, people would have simply gotten an e-mail from this council person, either agreed or deleted the e-mail and that would have been the end of the story.

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