Collaboration in Civic Spheres

University of Washington’s graduation rate slows

by October 21st, 2011

Six-year graduation rates for freshman entering the University of Washington at the main campus in Seattle had been rising for the classes of 2000 through 2003 but slowed last year as the rate for the class of 2004 dropped slightly. Overall, UW is solidly in the middle of the pack in six-year graduation rates among a representative sample, ranking 12th out of 25 peer institutions selected by Washington state’s Higher Education Coordinating Council. The information comes in a report presented at yesterday’s meeting of the UW Board of Regents, and prepared by the U’s Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity.

Auditor’s whistleblower reports: workers misusing state computers

by October 20th, 2011

Five separate whistleblower investigation reports issued this week by Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag find that employees at state agencies misused their workplace computers for personal purposes. According to the reports, they used their state computers to make hundreds upon hundreds of visits to hobby, shopping, wedding, photo, auction, and personal finance sites, and to trade stocks, work for a direct sales business, administer web sites for a dance studio and photography business, do work for a non-profit, administer classes taught at a local parks department, do their taxes, and urge veterans to lobby elected officials. Of the five employees, two resigned as investigations unfolded. Three others are being investigated further by their department supervisors. Employers involved are the departments of Social and Health Services; Personnel; and Labor and Industries; and the Office of Minority and Women Business Enterprises. Each pledges to continue reminding employees of prohibitions against personal use of state computers.

Georgetown, downtown firms share in $74 million Navy contract

by October 19th, 2011

The downtown Seattle marine engineering firm Guido Perla and Associates and Markey Machinery in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood will share in a $74 million contract awarded last week by the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command to Dakota Creek Industries of Anacortes for a new oceanographic research ship. Perla will perform final design for the vessel, and Markey will provide four winches which are used to lower crucial research equipment into the ocean. The vessel will be built in Anacortes by Dakota Creek, and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The contract has a $71 million option for a second such ship, which would go to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. Up to three or four more similar boats may be later commissioned by the Navy to continue replacing its aging research vessel fleet.

Blaine Dempke, president of subcontractor Markey Machinery, said, “for a company like ours, this is about a year’s worth of work. It’s quite significant in terms of adding and retaining jobs.” Dempke declined to specify how much the company will be paid from the contract but said the amount is “in seven figures.” Markey will supply two small winches of about 20,000 pounds each and two larger ones each about 50,000 pounds. They’re used to lower research packages and remote-operated vehicles into the ocean which take water samples, coring samples and do other work.

The Next Phase For Public Eye Northwest

by October 18th, 2011

The Seattle-based non-profit Public Eye Northwest (PEN) has just received approval from the Internal Revenue Service to operate as a tax-exempt 501c3 public charity. This will enable the ramping up of an investment campaign to sustain the organization. Formed in late 2010 first as a Washington state non-profit, PEN advances voluntary government transparency and civic education through public service journalism and community outreach work. PEN is non-partisan.

One key project of PEN is the news knowledge base Public Data Ferret, which produces plain-language summaries of recent, high-news value public documents found online. The summaries are then archived and searchable at the Ferret hub by jurisdiction and topic – and are used by media, students and researchers, government and a range of other stakeholders. Public Data Ferret is a member of the Seattle Times News Partner Network. PEN also trains student journalists, and has led forums about voluntary online government transparency for the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy, Seattle Pacific University, the U.S. State Department’s Visiting Foreign Leadership Program, groups of public affairs professionals, and others.

PEN provides free informal consultations to government officials on how to improve online transparency, and at its Social Capital Review blog – the parent site of Public Data Ferret – PEN also promotes the work of other non-profits on concerns such as literacy, public health, public lands and recreation, human rights, open government and civic engagement. Additionally and in cooperation with top scholars, PEN has begun an “open science” reporting initiative to highlight key findings of medical and scientific research from publicly-funded institutions serving Western Washington (particularly the University of Washington), and the U.S.

David Griswold, Vice-President of PEN’s 10-member board of directors, said, “now that we’ve got federal tax-exempt status we’re looking forward to reaching out for investment that will help our organization sustain its work of daylighting what the public sector does and why a lot of that matters to us all.” Griswold added, “The Seattle region is blessed with a vibrant ecosystem of innovative news providers and civic engagement programs. At the same time though, there has been an explosion across the U.S. of social media and news and commentary sites that are often entrenched in partisan warfare. This accents the need for factual, objective information from unbiased sources as a building block for public engagement, and civility in the public square. Established mainstream media still make valuable contributions, but community and non-profit actors have to step in, as well. PEN is filling an important role with its systematic focus on the stuff that slips between the cracks.”

PEN founder and Executive Director Matt Rosenberg emphasized the importance of voluntary government transparency. He said, “Mandated government disclosure through open records and open meetings laws is a cornerstone of our democracy and goes hand in hand with freedom of the press and freedom of political expression. But disclosure laws, as essential as they are, don’t currently yield the kind of baseline transparency needed. We’re encouraged to see more and more government bodies that are already starting to go the extra mile by making important documents and data available online without being required to do so by law; things such as staff memos, draft legislation, special reports, studies, investigations, audits, contracts with vendors, meeting agendas, meeting packet documents, special search tools for sets of public records, and government data sets that civic-minded software developers can turn into new, stakeholder-focused apps.”

Rosenberg added, “As a society we can always use more and better government transparency, whether it results from stronger disclosure laws, collaboration between the public and officialdom, or both. But even as we search for more sunlight, there’s already an abundance of information out there. So one big question is, ‘what do you do with transparency once you’ve got it?’ Information can be used in ways that add to today’s political polarization and stridency, or in ways that build bridges and help provide bottom-up solutions to challenges faced by those who collect and spend tax monies. Stakeholders are not ‘eyeballs’ to be marketed to; more and more they are choosing to be full-fledged participants in shaping the collective will, with a sharp eye on difficult public policy decisions we face in our city halls, public school systems, statehouses and the U.S. Congress.”

Public Eye Northwest received pro-bono representation from the Seattle law firm Foster Pepper in its application for federal tax-exempt status.

Donate to our tax-exempt parent non-profit, Public Eye Northwest.


UW Study Decodes Female Genital Cutting In Senegambia

by October 12th, 2011

Just published in the October issue of Social Science and Medicine, a new study of communities in Senegal and Gambia over three years led by University of Washington anthropologist Bettina Shell-Duncan finds that the controversial practice of female genital mutilation, also known as female genital cutting, is not mainly performed – as has been thought – to help women become more marriageable. Instead, Shell-Duncan and her research team found that the main impetus is conforming with strongly-enforced social conventions advanced by other women in community networks who’ve already undergone the procedure. In essence, the study finds that where female genital cutting is still common, it happens because younger women must either conform to the convention or be ostracized and shunned, losing important economic and social support, and social mobility.

State Auditor: Douglas County PUD worker stole $12K in fuel

by October 11th, 2011

Chelan County Deputy Prosecutor Doug Shae said today a pre-trial settlement involving full restitution is likely in the case of a Douglas County Public Utility District employee whoaccording to a fraud investigation report released last week by the Washington State Auditor’s Office defrauded the PUD of at least $12,384.68 by using its fuel credit cards to repeatedly buy gas for his private vehicle over a stretch of more than four years.

Appeals court clears Puyallup Tribe cops in suspect’s death

by October 10th, 2011

Puyallup Tribe police officers acted properly and under the protection of tribal sovereign immunity when in May, 2007 they subdued with a stun gun an erratically-behaving intruder named Jeffry Young at a tribal drug treatment center who then in their custody died of “excited delirium syndrome.” The news comes in a a ruling released today by the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division One. The ruling holds the three officers are not liable for claims against them by Young’s brother Chris including excessive force, wrongful death and civil rights violations.

Fast-food menu labels don’t cut calories in King County

by October 7th, 2011

A new study by researchers from Public Health Seattle and King County, the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, just published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, finds that mandatory labeling of menus at major fast food franchise outlets in King County isn’t reducing actual caloric intake among children or significantly among adults. It’s at least the second such report on the regional public health impact – or lack of it – since a new King County law in January 2009 began requiring all restaurant chains with 15 or more locations to prominently display information for each regular menu selection on calories, saturated fat, carbohydrate and sodium content.