Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Washington Winners: Public Meeting Transparency Online

by Matt Rosenberg September 4th, 2012

Below: the Washington state winners and champions in public meeting transparency online. They not only put meeting agendas online; they use software platforms which put into those online agendas, individual links to individual business items. This is far more user-friendly than the next-best practice, which is to bundle all the agenda packet documents into one .pdf file dozens or hundreds of pages long. This way constituents, reporters and other information seekers can see exactly what elected officials are considering – on an item-by-item basis – and can link to the specific documents in their online communications at web sites, blogs and in social media, boosting accuracy and accountability for online news and commentary. That’s something badly needed in these times. The Winners List follows. It is made up of direct links to the most user-friendly, document-rich agenda pages of local and regional governments in Washington state, grouped by county.

WA Local, Regional Govts. – Agendas, Documents

by Matt Rosenberg September 4th, 2012

Open meetings laws and public records laws are a bulwark of our democracy, to be widely promoted and firmly upheld. Yet the bar is rising still higher for government transparency as many elected bodies go beyond mere compliance with these legal requirements — by voluntarily providing better public access to their business, online. A key indicator for local and regional elected bodies is ease of online access to meeting agenda packet individual items, prior to meeting times. Following and grouped by county, are links to meeting agenda pages, or where none are available, meeting minutes pages or board roster pages for city and town councils in Washington state, plus school boards, county boards, public hospital boards, public utility districts and local/regional transit boards. Here we cover areas outside Central Puget Sound (King, Snohomish and Pierce counties), which have already been indexed in guides linked to at the end of this post.

This directory’s purpose is to promote wider access to the business of government, and particularly to agenda-specific original source documents posted online. Reporters, bloggers and other information providers can use these government source materials in their own online published work to enhance their own accuracy and accountability, and to better advance rational and richer discourse about current public policy matters.

We assign the following code for each government body included below:

  • (1) = (Best Practice) online agenda for each meeting has individual links to supporting documentation for individual agenda items (i.e. reports, memos, spreadsheets, ordinances)
  • (2) = agenda page has link to entire agenda packet for each meeting
  • (3) = online agenda provided for each meeting, but no link to agenda packet or other documentation for business items
  • (4) = there is no online agenda provided for official current meetings (minutes may or may not be provided)
  • (5) = No web site (although we may have provided a link to basic contact information, if available)
  • (Continued…..agenda page and document links for local, regional govts. in all WA counties)

    EEOC wins $2.3M today from Fry’s in Renton sex harassment, whistleblower case

    by Matt Rosenberg August 30th, 2012

    A $100,000 fine of Fry’s Electronics last month by a federal court judge in Seattle for procedural misconduct in a harassment and retaliation case at its Renton store, was just the first shoe dropping. Today, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced the national consumer electronics chain has signed a consent decree agreeing to pay $2.3 million to two former Fry’s Renton employees and institute new internal policies aimed at preventing sexual harassment and punishment of staff whistleblowers. “On a per capita basis, this is one of the largest settlements EEOC has won on behalf of victims,” said Justine Lisser, Senior Attorney Advisor in the EEOC’s Office of Communications in Washington, D.C.

    In a news release issued today, EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez said, “The case should send a clear message that sexual harassment of vulnerable employees remains a serious problem in this country, as is employer retaliation against those who report harassment.” The EEOC’s suit against Fry’s had charged that an assistant manager at the Renton facility harassed a 20-year-old salesperson America Rios with sexually-oriented texts and invitations to drink at his residence. When her direct supervisor Ka Lam reported the actions to the company’s legal officials, he was fired for poor performance despite having had positive performance reviews.

    The consent decree was filed with Judge Robert Lasnick of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, in Seattle. It covers a three-year period. It includes distribution of the $2.3 million to Rios and Lam. He gets two-thirds of the settlement, Rios one-third. It also stipulates Fry’s must provide employees and management with anti-harassment training, must report harassment complaints and responses to the EEOC, and must post a notice of this settlement and EEOC contact information for all employees to see.

    In the EEOC news release, Rios said, “This was my first job, and I just wanted the harassment to stop. It really meant a lot to have my supervisor speak out for me, and it was horrifying to see him lose his job over it. I’m elated and relieved by the settlement, for Ka Lam’s sake as much as for mine.”

    UPDATE: In an interview attorney Scott Blankenship of the Seattle-based Blankenship Law Firm, which represented the plaintiffs for the EEOC, said Rios is now working as a manager at a Wells-Fargo Bank in the Seattle area and Lam has relocated to Northern California where he is working for another company in the consumer electronics industry. Lam had been accused by his superiors of perpetrating the harassment himself, said Blankenship. The assistant manager alleged to have harassed Rios was named Minasse Ibrahim and was close friends with the store manager Art Squires: they shared an office and golfed and played cards together, said Blankenship. So, the attorney added, it amounted to “a sham investigation” when Fry’s had Squires investigate the complaint against Ibrahim.

    Fry’s “had no real alternative” but to settle, said Blankenship, because “we learned of additional evidence of other victims of sexual harassment” at the Renton Fry’s, which would have been introduced into the record in an ongoing arbitration proceeding in the case. Squires is still employed as the manager of the Renton store, Blankenship said; store employees reached today by phone confirmed that. Squires was not available for comment.

    Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

    King County’s big tort claims: $37.3M in last 2.5 years

    by Matt Rosenberg August 29th, 2012

    Court verdicts or settlements of $100,000 or more in government negligence claims against King County from January 2010 through June 2012 have totaled $37.3 million and 40 percent of that has resulted from actions by transit employees at King County Metro, according to records obtained by Public Data Ferret. The large tort claim payouts by King County more than doubled from 2010 to 2011 but so far are occurring at a slower pace this year. In 2010, total large tort claims (over $100,000) were $10.3 million and $6.65 million or 64 percent were due to King County Metro transit operations. In 2011, large tort claims were $23.1 million and $6.32 million or 27 percent were tied to Metro transit. In 2012 through June, King County has paid out $3.85 million in negligence claims of $100,000 or more, with $1.92 million or 50 percent involving Metro transit.

    CBO infographic explains deficit, debt, taxes, services

    by Matt Rosenberg August 28th, 2012

    A recently released report and infographic from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office warn that Congress should stick to its guns and execute the intent of the federal deficit reduction laws it has passed in recent years, or risk putting the nation on an “unsustainable” fiscal path. Ending as planned a wide range of existing tax cuts including two percent off the Social Security payroll tax, plus making other planned benefits reductions to Medicare and unemployment, and allowing the planned triggering in 2013 of automatic cuts in discretionary and mandatory federal spending, would cut the federal deficit from a projected $1.1 trillion at the end of fiscal 2012 (ending Sept. 30) to $640 billion in fiscal 2013, says CBO.

    Sticking to the planned 2013 reforms will shave away some economic growth and keep unemployment slightly higher, but more importantly, says CBO, it will prevent the federal public debt from soaring to 90 percent of Gross Domestic Product, a level not seen since World War 2. The infographic concludes, “Because current policies would ultimately lead to an unsustainable level of federal debt, policymakers will need to adopt – at some point – policies that will require people to pay significantly more in taxes, accept substantially less in government benefits and services, or both.”

    Here below in three parts is the infographic prepared by CBO. Use your Web browser’s “zoom in” feature to increase the size of the print, as needed. Or view it here.

    Public Data Ferret’s U.S. Government+ Finance/Budget archive

    Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

    Washington State Parks ranks high in visits, vs. U.S. peers

    by Matt Rosenberg August 27th, 2012

    Washington State Parks ranked sixth out of 50 systems for combined day and overnight visitors, according to the 2012 Annual Information Exchange report prepared for the National Association of State Parks Directors (NASPD) by researchers at North Carolina State University. It is the most recent available; the next version will be published early next year. It shows that despite having just 120,555 acres, less than half the average for state parks systems nationwide, Washington State Parks from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011 drew 38.8 million patrons, more than any other states except California, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Illinois.

    27 years of data: Seattle crime rate sharply declining

    by Nathan Brown August 24th, 2012

    Annual rates of reported crime in Seattle have continued a steady and overall, sharp decline from 1985 through 2011, paralleling a trend seen in all other King County cities and nationwide, according to local police department data provided to Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. A spread sheet (Excel download) prepared for Public Data Ferret using the WASPC data, shows the overall per capita crime rate in Seattle (or reported crimes per 1,000 residents) went from 129.15 in 1985 to 58.06 in 2011. The spreadsheet also has annual per capita crime rate data for all other King County cities over the 27-year period.

    Data viz: crime-specific rates, King County cities, 2007-2011

    by Nathan Brown August 21st, 2012

    Recently, we published an original data visualization showing the overall crime rate per capita for each King County city, from 1985 through 2011. Below we zero in on crime rate data for King County cities during the years 2007- 2011, broken down and ranked by crime subtypes including the violent crimes of murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault; and the property crimes burglary, larceny, arson and vehicle theft. Simply shift the horizontal year-slider one or more years to the right to view a new year. (Please wait momentarily for each new year’s data to display). The map atop the visualization will shift – showing the overall crime rate for each town, color-coded and with mouse-over details (map operation details); but at the same time the bar charts below will display for the same year the crime sub-type rates for each King County city. Rates are expressed per capita, or incidences per 1,000 residents. Source: The maps and bar charts display data as reported from each city’s police department within King County by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

    RELATED: Public Data Ferret’s Data Visualization archive

    Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.