Washington state public transit agencies in 2012 badly lagged the national average in paying their own way for operating costs. Reports from the Washington State Department of Transportation and the National Transit Database show respectively that the 30 Evergreen State public transit agencies received just 13.6 percent of their operating revenues from fare payments versus an aggregate of 33 percent for all 824 transit agencies reporting nationwide. However, in Washington, transit system van pools had a remarkably strong financial performance, earning a full four-fifths of operating costs from riders.
Collaboration in Civic Spheres
Archive for the ‘King County’ Category
by Matt Rosenberg November 11th, 2013
Visiting Seattle right now are 19 Arab journalists focused on transparency, media and civic life. The U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program and the World Affairs Council of Seattle are coordinating. I’m honored to have been asked to present to them Nov. 11 and to leave time for conversation, I’ve compiled this post for them – and others – illustrating sources and output of Public Data Ferret, a non-partisan Seattle-based news project that digs for sub-rosa online government documents and data sets. I also share some Recommendations for Global Open Government
Using special sources available to all, we craft original stories which are then archived by jurisdiction and topic in a special database, and distributed via legacy and social media. We always link to full source documents. Governments are making more and more documents and data available voluntarily, online, in the U.S. and elsewhere. They know that by doing so they can build trust, broaden public knowledge and participation, and perhaps also avoid the expense of staff hours required to gather information on demand.
We also teach and train student and community volunteers who contribute content; participate in panel discussions and conferences, and publish transparency policy analyses in outside venues. Public Data Ferret is a program of the 501c3 non-profit Public Eye Northwest.
We are supported by private donors, and earned revenues from communications consulting. We maintain total editorial control over what appears at Public Data Ferret, and how it is written. After three years, we are gratefully beginning to reach financial sustainability.
Why Do This?
Our motivation for starting the Public Data Ferret project was that:
Develop Shared Resource Guides to Public Documents and Data
To find material we often use our own continually updated resource guides to public documents and data. These include guides to sources from the U.S. government; Washington State; King County regional governments; the City of Seattle; and local governments across Washington State which follow the “best practice” of putting individual links to individual public documents in their online meeting agendas, thus making it much easier for bloggers and online reporters to link to source materials.
Drilling Down – Into Online Source Materials
Let’s examine some of the online sources of government documents and data that have been most helpful for Public Data Ferret, and some of the resulting news articles.
The ‘PubMed’ Index – National Institutes of Health
Public health reporting is enriched by the online reference library called Pub Med, sponsored by the U.S. government’s National Institute of Health. A recent find there led to our article, “Prescription Pot Could Be A Real Bummer, UW Doc Argues.”
Context on Medical Marijuana – Health Research & Public Debate
In a medical journal article, the doctor, who is an expert in addiction and psychiatry from the government-funded University of Washington and the Puget Sound Veterans Administration, reviewed the medical literature and called for great caution in prescribing medical marijuana for chronic pain, something that is currently legal in Washington State. The debate is very current because Washington is now right in the middle of implementing legalized recreational use of marijuana following 2012 voter approval, and new, tighter restrictions have already been proposed on medical marijuana as a result.
Important to “Connect The Dots”
Our method includes “connecting the dots.” It turns out this was not the first warning issued by UW doctors about legally consuming marijuana either for medical or recreational purposes. In our recent story we linked to a related report we did earlier this year, which emphasized another detailed warning from a UW researcher, and also contained links to six other government or university studies on the health hazards of smoking marijuana, something that is now even more socially acceptable following its legalization for recreational use in Washington State.
PubMed User Tips & “Open Science” Values
Our searches at Pub Med usually use the keyword “Seattle,” or “King County” which ensures that abstracts of any new public health articles by researchers from the University of Washington or King County, on any topic, will be found. We also use the search term “Washington State.” Searching by topic is another option, such as marijuana. The results are displayed in reverse-date order so you get the most recent entries first.
The Open Science Imperative
This specialized search engine indexes abstracts and sometimes free full-text versions of scholarly articles in “open access” or “open science” publications. If only an abstract is available, we contact the author by email and explain our project, and ask to be emailed a free, full-text copy. Some comply, some don’t. If we can’t get a free full-text copy, we will not do our own article on the findings.
Our Washington State+Open Science archive at Public Data Ferret provides links to many examples of our work based on articles found through Pub Med and similar sources, such as the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Centers for Disease Control’s “Wonder” Database
The CDC also has a database called “CDC Wonder” on disease and death rates by U.S. state since 1999, and we have been able to use it to generate original, Washington-specific stories with mapped data summaries, such as “Washington Tops U.S. in 12-year Alzheimers Death Rates,” and “WA Led U.S. in Breast Cancer for Most Recent Year Reported.” This last story included links to two others we did on related risk factors: “Study: Pre-pregnancy Drinking Boosts Breast Cancer Risks;” and “UW-Group Health Study: Some Pills Raise Breast Cancer Risk.”
More on how to do Open Science-based reporting in this tutorial we published.
Another archive is for data visualizations. Among those we’ve created, some employ Tableau software and others Google Public Data Explorer. Among the particularly interactive ones are those showing:
Effective Government Management, of Budgets and Programs
A variety of government information sources facilitate oversight and accountability reporting. Public Data Ferret’s U.S. Government+Management archive includes numerous stories about difficulties in efficiently overseeing federal spending and programs. One recent example is our article, “CRS: U.S. Improper Payments At Least $688 BIllion Since 2004.” This story was also enriched by additional research we found using a valuable U.S. government disclosure site called paymentaccuracy.gov, which tracks improper payments on an agency-by-agency basis, as mandated by federal law.
NGO Liberates Hidden Government Reports From CRS, Regularly
“CRS” stands for the Congressional Research Service, which is an independent policy analysis arm reporting to the U.S. Congress. Incongruously, Congress has steadfastly refused to let CRS directly make its work available to the public, even though CRS is taxpayer-funded. However an NGO, the Federation of American Scientists, does post online most CRS reports within days of release, thanks to cooperative sources inside the agency.
This is an institutionalized, and clearly tolerated example of “leaking” documents, which serves the public interest. Here is the main FAS index of CRS reports, and a particularly useful subsection titled “miscellaneous topics.”
Washington State Oversight
Our Washington State+Management archive includes stories reported with the aid of many different online sources.
One is the regularly-updated compendium of oversight reports issued by the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO). Freshened with new content every Monday morning, the SAO’s site has many dry and unremarkable reports about whether or not proper financial reporting procedures are being followed by local and regional governments in Washington state.
But other reports are more newsworthy; often these are so-called “whistleblower investigation reports,” or fraud reports. SAO performance audits examine how well state or regional agencies are fulfilling their mission and duties.
Stories based on Washington State Auditor Reports
Some stories we have published based on SAO reports include:
The Seattle+Management archive includes stories developed from SAO reports and other sources, including,:
Transportation, Education, Finance & Budget
There are many other ways to use the Public Data Ferret archive, mainly by combining different jurisdiction and topic search keywords. For example:
Seattle City Council Committee Meeting Agendas
At the local level, one example of voluntary government transparency which sometimes yields newsworthy stories are the meeting agendas of the legislative committees of the Seattle City Council. They are accessed from a central hub and include embedded links to documents explaining the agenda items for each meeting. Examples of related stories we have done include:
Recommendations for Global Open Government
There is no “One Size Fits All” approach to government transparency. Conditions vary widely between cities and states, and particularly between countries. But aided by the Internet, social media and mobile technologies, there is also growing impetus supporting fair and free elections; broadened human rights; freedom of the press; plus heightened expectations of corruption-free, transparent governance; government performance measurement; and accountability.
With that in mind, NGOs, citizens and governments should work together to advance the following objectives.
Open data must be for the electorate, not the elite.
by Matt Rosenberg October 8th, 2013
Port of Seattle Sea-Tac Airport concession operator HMS Host owes the port $635,704 in unpaid fees, interest and a late fee, according to a recently released port internal audit. The problem arose because HMS Host subtenants The Great American Bagel Bakery and Diva Espresso were misclassified as “branded food” concessionaires who get a discount of about two percent in the share of revenues they must fork over to the airport for the privilege of operating there. Port managers of airport concessions and business development said in the audit they hadn’t been aware of the current problem. But they added they’d seek “appropriate” recovery of funds owed by HMS Host, and would keep closer tabs on branded food sales by concessionaires and related rates of concession payments to the port.
by Matt Rosenberg August 29th, 2013
A new fraud investigation report from Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley finds that an “electroneurodiagnostic technician” at Harborview Medical Center – which is owned by King County and operated by the University of Washington – between January 2010 and the end of October, 2012 received pay for 628 hours she didn’t work, valued at $16,286. It is the third time since April 2012 that state investigations have concluded a Harborview worker committed fraud. Another auditor’s report in 2010 found fault with cash handling practices at Harborview.
by Matt Rosenberg August 15th, 2013
In a King County Superior Court plea deal settled August 1 a former Amazon.com software development manager from India named Vishwastam Shukla – who according to his attorney was a rising star at the Seattle company but has lost his job and “most everything” in connection with his crime – agreed to permanent banishment from the United States in return for reduction of charges from felony to gross misdemeanor in an online sex sting. It involved a Seattle Police detective posing as an apparent 15-year-old prostitute on craigslist, and a planned sex-for-money interlude at the Seattle Hyatt while Shukla was in town on company business, from the San Jose, Calif. Amazon unit he headed. He supervised eight other workers. Following the recent court actions Shukla was to have boarded a plane back to India August 3, and had to pay a $5,000 fine. His return to India is to be verified to the court in a hearing scheduled for August 21.
by Matt Rosenberg July 25th, 2013
A Washington state appeals court in a ruling this week affirmed a King County judge’s 2011 dismissal of a suit by prominent environmental groups against the Puget Sound Regional Council transportation planning organization asserting it failed under state law to require adequate greenhouse gas reduction measures in its “Transportation 2040″ plan approved in May, 2010. The plan – covered here shortly after its release by our Public Data Ferret accountability reporting project and then in a Ferret KOMO-AM 1000 radio segment – said to address a more-than-one-third hike in population and a 51 percent boost in regional jobs by 2040 – that $189 billion more would be needed to get Seattle-region roads and transit fairly close to right by then. That would include $64 billion in new monies not yet secured, about half in taxes and fees, and half tolls.
Forty-two percent of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 came from transportation versus 26 percent nationally, according to the state’s inventory published last December. “T2040″ prescribed regional electronic tolling with higher charges at peak hours, and proposed some improvements to transit , biking and pedestrian infrastructure. It’s just a wish list from an advisory body with little real decision-making power but some important local and regional elected officials on its board. Political considerations still being calculated by state legislators are central. But tectonic shifts are underway in regional transportation policy, which may in the long run boost the green priorities sought by plaintiffs in the again-failed legal action.
by Matt Rosenberg July 12th, 2013
A 55-year-old lawn service owner from Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood this week in King County Superior Court pled guilty to a felony sex offense and was sentenced to nearly a year in jail. After police noticed his online post in the “Casual Encounters” section of Craigslist seeking sex with a mother and daughter, a detective responded, posing as the father of a 13-year-old girl “who wants to experience sex with older men.” A series of email exchanges ensued in which the age of the fictitious girl was underscored and the suspect made clear that he understood that, and wanted have regular, oral and anal sex with her. A meet-up was arranged at the Edgewater Hotel, 2411 Alaskan Way on Seattle’s downtown waterfront.
by Matt Rosenberg July 11th, 2013
The King County Solid Waste Division is moving forward with plans to evaluate three potential sites for a new facility to replace the aging Algona Transfer Station. Residents of south King County Thursday night can learn more at a public meeting 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Auburn Senior Activity Center, where SWD officials will explain site selection criteria, and take comments and questions. A dark-horse candidate site previously rejected is now the county’s preferred choice, on West Valley Highway S. in Auburn. It has led to formation of resident group called “No North Auburn Dump.” Members are strenuously opposed and have taken to the Internet with a blog and Facebook page. They say another current alternative for which the county has already bought land in Algona next to the current site, is much more suitable.