In wake of mayor’s missing texts, Seattle councilmember proposes new office for records requests
Last week, it was revealed that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office failed to properly handle a series of public records requests, after it discovered that 10 months of the mayor’s text messages had gone missing. Council President Lorena Gonzalez and City Attorney Pete Holmes are hoping to address the root cause of that controversy, proposing a new, independent entity specifically to handle records requests to the mayor’s office.
This comes after Holmes reached out to Gonzalez over the weekend, “to develop some strategies and a work plan” for the proposed entity, which would “be responsible for researching, reviewing and releasing in a timely way information requested by the public, including members of the press, regarding the mayor’s office.”
“Seattle’s strict public disclosure requirements are sacred to transparency, and they should never be evaded for any reason,” Gonzalez said Monday. “Those requests should not be difficult to answer, nor should they be made under pressure from inside any department, and that includes the mayor’s office.”
As Gonzalez pointed out, requests for records from city councilmembers are managed by the city clerk’s office, “not council staff or staff that report directly to elected councilmembers.” Comparatively, recent issues with the mayor’s missing texts were largely driven by Durkan’s legal counsel, Michelle Chen, who directed public records officers to “narrowly interpret 48 pending requests … identified as requesting the Mayor’s text messages,” in an attempt to conceal the fact that the messages were missing.
That narrow interpretation included requests for messages to and from Durkan regarding the withdrawal of police from SPD’s East Precinct last summer, as well as alleged threats to the precinct building. In many of those requests, Chen sought to avoid providing the missing messages by purposefully interpreting terms like “correspondence” and “communications” to not include texts.
Gonzalez hopes to avoid similar issues in the future with the formation of her proposed entity.
“For public disclosure requests for information from the mayor’s office, I believe that it is important to ensure that those are no longer controlled by those that directly report to the mayor’s office,” she said.