Thursday, February 27, 2014

Public information should be free and why I'm watching the Thurston County clerk race

If we pay to maintain a database of public information, we should charge prohibitive fees to simply access that information.

Some background at "The paywall to public records in Thurston County" Part 1 and Part 2.

For the first time since 1990, there will be an open race for Thurston County Clerk. The clerk is the interdependently elected official who provides administrative support for our local court system. So, if you want a copy of court fillings or some other court record, you go through the clerk.

But, like I pointed out in the links above, that could run you $30 for a 16 page document. And, this is just for downloading the file.

So, the clerk's race is the one race I'm watching this year.

Right now there are two candidates filed at the Public Disclosure Commission, Yvonne Pettus and Linda Enlow. Both Pettus and Enlow have years of experience in county clerk like offices, both of whom serving as chief deputy clerk under the current clerk at different points. Actually it seems like Pettus replaced Enlow in 2012 as chief deputy clerk.

In case you were wondering, Gould made a $200 donation to Pettus, so she's apparently endorsing her current chief deputy.

Pettus' website is pretty stale and Enlow currently has no website at all. So, trying to figure out which one puts more emphasis on public access is pretty hard.

The people behind the RECAP project talk a lot about why public access to court records matters. They're of course talking about federal courts, but even in our medium size Puget Sound community, this should matter.

I'd argue that it matters more here because there are a lot more resources to create an popular tool like RECAP to open up a closed system like PACER (the federal court record database). But, here in Thurston County, I doubt we'd be able to muster that kind of support.

So, we would depend on a good county clerk to ensure public access to public documents.

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