Public Records
This short training session will help you when considering whether or not something should be kept as a record.

RCW 40.14.010 – Definition and classification of public records
“Public records shall include any paper, correspondence, completed form, bound record, book, photograph, film, sound, recording, map, drawing, machine-readable material…regardless of physical form or characteristics, and including such copies thereof, that have been made by or received by any agency of the state of Washington in connection with the transaction of public business”

Related to and used for the conduct of the business of government:

  • Regardless of format:
  • Clay tablet, pen and paper, phone, e-mails, Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, databases, websites, blogs, wikis, social media, or any other emerging applications or platforms
  • Regardless of device used to create it:
  • Mainframe computer, PC, laptop, smartphone, notebook, tablet, Google Class or any other emerging technologies
  • Regardless of location/where it’s stored or accessed:
  • PC, laptop, flash drive, smartphone, notebook, tablet or the cloud
  • Elected and appointed officials
  • Public employees
  • Contractors and volunteers*

Anyone who creates, receives, or uses public records while working on behalf of a government agency, commission, board or committee is subject to all the rules surrounding public records as well

*Effective July 23, ESB 1594 amended Ch. 42.56 RCW making some exemptions for certain kinds of volunteers who do not serve in an administrative capacity, have not been appointed by the agency to a board, commission or internship or do not have a supervisory role or delegated authority

  • Agencies are granted ongoing legal authority to disposition (get rid of or transfer records) using a legal document called a records retention schedule
  • These schedules are approved and modified by the state records committee

By law, the WSSB has five business days to respond to a request for records and to provide a date to the requestor for when the records will be provided.

In the last six years, the WSSB has received PRR’s from the following types of organizations:

  • Law firms (10)
  • Media (1)
  • Former WSSB staff (2)
  • Individuals (3)
  • State Agency (1)
  • Miscellaneous organizations (3)

….records of agency business when they are created or retained by agency or officials on home computers or devices, or in non-agency email accounts or files (location does not matter)

  • Text messages sent and received by a public employee in the employee’s official capacity are public records of the employer, regardless of the public or private nature of the device used to create them; thus, even if the employee uses a private cell phone
  • A record that an agency employee prepares, owns, uses, or retains within the scope of employment is a record “prepared, owned, used or retained by a state or local agency” under the PRA
  • An agency must conduct an adequate search for responsive records
  • The search should be reasonably calculated to uncover responsive records
  • The search should follow obvious leads to possible locations where records are likely to be found
  • If responsive public records are on or in employees’ personal devices, personal accounts, or personal files, those must be searched, too
  • The focal point of the judicial inquiry is the agency’s search process, not the outcome of the search
  • The agency bears the burden of proof to show the adequacy of the search
  • Employee may be required to submit an affidavit regarding his/her search
  • PRA enforced by courts for claims listed in PRA.
  • A court can impose civil penalties. No proof of “damages” required.
  • A court is to consider factors in requiring an agency to pay a penalty.
  • Plus, a court will award the prevailing requester’s attorneys fees and costs.
  • Special penalty provisions and court procedures apply to lawsuits involving inmate requests.

The state and local governments that responded to a statewide survey in 2016 reported spending more than $60 million to fulfill over 285,000 public records requests in the most recent year alone

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