People who request county documents won’t have to go through a formal administrative appeal before asking for a court review if they’re not satisfied with the county’s response to their request. That judicial review will become an option if a proposed amendment to the Okanogan County code is approved.
The proposed amendment would bring the county into compliance with a 2019 state Supreme Court decision in a San Juan County case. In that case, the requester sued the county, alleging that the county hadn’t done an adequate search and had withheld some of the records he wanted. San Juan County argued that the requester had to seek administrative review by the county’s prosecuting attorney before he could file a lawsuit.
In the Supreme Court opinion, the justices noted that the state’s Public Records Act (PRA) doesn’t “give … public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.” Although this can burden local governments, the PRA doesn’t allow public agencies to require a document requester to exhaust all administrative reviews before asking the courts to hear a case, the justices said. It also doesn’t allow a city or county to create another layer of administrative review.
The PRA requires the public agency to provide a written explanation when a request is denied and to create a procedure for a review of denials within two business days.
Part of the Supreme Court case hinged on clarifying when a decision is final that all relevant records have been located and provided, or whether the records requester could still expect additional documents.
The changes to the Okanogan County code would allow the requester to ask the prosecuting attorney to review a response by the county’s public records officer, but would not require it. Requesters would have to wait two days before seeking judicial review, whether they ask the prosecutor to review the matter or not. The prosecuting attorney and records requester could agree to give the county more time to produce the documents.
Okanogan County doesn’t have a single public records officer who handles all records requests. Requests for documents are typically handled by an employee in the relevant department.
The Okanogan County commissioners are holding a public hearing on the proposed changes on Tuesday (Jan. 21) at 4 p.m. in Okanogan. People can provide verbal testimony or submit written comments before or at the hearing to Clerk of the Board Laleña Johns at email@example.com.
For more information, contact Okanogan County Chief Civil Deputy Dave Gecas at firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 422-7280.