Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Of Cockatiels And Collaboration

by May 26th, 2010

Thanks to my wonderful partners on the KOMO 1000 Nine2Noon Show I had a chance yesterday during my weekly segment to discuss not only the latest featured story at our Public Data Ferret hub, but also delve into the importance of open government, community journalism and collaboration. The following offbeat crime vignette, drawn from King County Superior Court records, provided an opportunity to talk in more detail about the usual daily and weekly stuff of government – which typically is comprised of somewhat more sober original source material, posted online, and summarized for the public at the searchable Ferret compendium to help guide participation. But it’s okay to have a little fun with Ferret, too, especially when it’s a true story based on public documents. Here’s the audio, and the original Ferret write-up. The transcript follows.

Brian Calvert: “It’s a story of a pair of pants, a bird and a pint of bourbon. Matt Rosenberg of, where you can use their feature, The Public Data Ferret. Matt, the Public Data Ferret actually comes across all kinds of interesting charges and cases, and paperwork, and it appears today’s story is no exception.”

Matt Rosenberg: “That’s right, Brian. This week we’ve got a tragi-comic tale of a cockatiel caper gone wrong. Now, last Friday, May 21, Bobby Wayne Wells, 35, of Burien, learned that it doesn’t pay to ingest a pint of bourbon, then enter a pet store, stuff a squawking cockatiel down your pants in full view of an employee, deny it when confronted, and flee in a distinctively marked vehicle, eluding police at high speeds while weaving across several lanes and then driving on the wrong side of the road.”

Brian Calvert: “Where in the world did you find this story?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well, you know, it’s funny. I actually got a hold of the court documents. And what slays me is that Bobby Wayne entered Midway Tropical Fish, this is last June 25th in Kent, opens the bird cage, takes out the cockatiel, stretches the waistband of his pants forward, puts the bird right down in there (the bird’s worth just $50, now). The clerk sees all this, and this is the great part. He says, ‘You can’t do that.’ Bobby Wayne says, ‘Do what?’ The clerk says, ‘stick the bird down your pants.’ Bobby Wayne says, ‘What bird?’ Unfortunately, the bird is squawking quite loudly at this point, so he hightails it out of there, Dukes of Hazard style, police give up the chase when he starts driving on the wrong side of the road on Pacific Highway South, but they track him down several days later at home, he admits to it all, and to drinking – qoute – ‘a pint of bourbon’ – unquote, beforehand. He’s still got the bird, so his mom takes it back to the pet store, and the wheels of justice begin to turn.”

Nancy Barrick: “And this is not Bobby Wayne’s first encounter with the law, right?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well unfortunately no, he’s had 21 prior convictions, although none of them for so-called “Three Strikes” felonies. So this leads me to think maybe we need a “Dozen Strikes” law for habitual lower-level offenders. In any case, Kent Police made a very smart call to abandon the chase, and good solid police work led to Bobby Wayne’s arrest and conviction. But upon release, according to the sentencing papers, he is never, ever, ever to enter that pet store again.”

Brian Calvert: “Well, it’s just an example of the kind of stuff you go through on a daily basis as part of the Public Data Ferret. You go through all kinds of court cases and documents, and you actually help us, through the Public Data Ferret, have access to that stuff as well, right?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Absolutely, that’s what we’re trying to do. And we’re making some real progress here. We’ve recruited a student from the University of Washington named Andrew Hart who is helping us dig up material on local governments and what the city councils are up to. And we’re actively looking for folks out in the communities who enjoy doing this stuff, combing through public documents, especially city councils, school districts and regional taxing bodies. There’s a whole lot out there, and a lot of it slips through the cracks. Usually we don’t find stuff quite as fun as this. We focus on more serious stuff. But there’s just a world of material out there, and a lot of it flies right by.”

Nancy Barrick: “So you’re expanding your work here. So, are a lot of people interested in what you’re doing?”

Matt Rosenberg: “We’re finding quite a bit of interest. And when you backtrack through the Web traffic indicators that all us bloggers have, we see people from local governments, county government, from the federal government, from academic institutions, and just plain folks. They’re following what we’re doing, they’re clicking on the Ferret items and reading them for quite a long time. So, you know, although this is a fun story, really, our real idea here is that open government and accountability are super important issues these days, especially, as you guys know, because the news media’s had some hard times. We just don’t have as many beat reporters out there as we used to. And so whether it’s transportation, education, social services, public health, criminal justice, public safety, you name it, there are reports, legislation, all kinds of things that can really help us collaborate with government. So, we want people to get this material, but then find ways to make good suggestions.”

Brian Calvert: “Matt Rosenberg, thank you for your time this morning. And if you’d like to find the Public Data Ferret, all you have to do is find yourself at

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