Open Government, Retabulation 2004, Media

Open Government

Yet to claim the mantle of state attorney general, Republican Rob McKenna has already made a crucial move to establish true freedom of information at the state level. McKenna could have continued the way of predecessor Christine Gregoire, who tended to let state agencies obstruct public records requests. That attitude was reinforced by a state Supreme Court ruling last year that the state could cite attorney-client privilege, or deem a request as overly broad, in refusing to disclose. But McKenna is concerned that the ruling will tempt agencies to thwart valid requests, so he's hiring Olympia lawyer Greg Overstreet to be a Public Disclosure Act "evangelist" in the attorney general's office. Overstreet will brief agencies on what the law requires, step in when conflicts arise, and help citizens experiencing problems. He has developed a reputation as a public disclosure advocate while working for the firm Perkins Coie and is editing a manual on the subject for the Washington State Bar Association. NINA SHAPIRO

Retabulation 2004

The Washelli Precinct has finally reported. To the dubious postelection recounts of lost, folded, and spindled ballots, we can now add those from a silent minority: the dead. Perhaps dozens of them. Rumors of voters having cast ballots from the grave in the gubernatorial race, certified as a 129-vote win for Democrat Christine Gregoire, picked up currency last week when a contributor to the right-leaning blog discovered first one, then two, names of dead people whose votes were counted in King County. Seattle Weekly discovered two more by comparing obituaries to voter rolls. Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporters unearthed the names of eight who died well before the election but were credited with voting. Seattle Times reporters, comparing voter and death records, bumped the tally up to 24 names in six of 39 counties. King County officials promised an investigation, and the Republicans, hoping to get a revote for losing candidate Dino Rossi, cited dead voters as one reason the election was, well, fatally flawed. RICK ANDERSON


The Seattle Times and the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild have begun negotiations over an undisclosed number of layoffs the paper says are crucial to survive a $12 million loss last year and a legal battle with the Hearst-owned Seattle Post- Intelligencer over their joint operating agreement (JOA). What's to negotiate? Last hired, first fired, right? Usually. But according to a memo to employees, the Times wants the union to grant it "significant flexibility"—presumably in deciding whom to lay off—in return for severance not otherwise required by the contract. The guild represents employees in news, advertising, and circulation. "Seniority is an important issue—one of the things people count on when they have a contract," says guild administrative officer Elizabethe Brown. The union is willing to listen, Brown says, but "if we find we're not interested in pursuing their line of thinking, we have a contract that's in effect and we expect the Seattle Times to honor it." The locally controlled Times has been claiming fiscal distress for years, calling the JOA with the P-I a ball and chain. In light of news reports questioning the paper's accounting methods, Brown says, the union would like to sign a nondisclosure agreement and have the Times opens its books, to prove the need for unusual concessions. CHUCK TAYLOR

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