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16 January 2007 @ 07:48 am
Associated Press: Renton councilman provides access to e-mail  
Renton councilman provides access to e-mail


Associated Press


RENTON — City Council member Randy Corman believes in open government in this city — so much so that he has asked that his e-mail be made available for anyone to read at City Hall.

Corman, who also has a Web site on which he explains some of his votes, said he hoped the move would reduce the growing number of public disclosure requests and help take the mysque out of decision making.

Last year Renton received nearly 190 written requests for e-mails and other public records, the most ever and more than twice as many as in 2005.

"I want it to all be as public as possible," Corman said. "We're going to look like a more open and happening city."

To satisfy open records laws, other municipalities in the state typically make council members' e-mail available only in response to public record requests that specify a particular issue or subject. Personnel matters, legal issues and other confidential material are exempt.

Some of Corman's colleagues in Renton are following his lead.

Council member Dan Clawson said some citizens have misconceptions about the nature and content of government-related electronic communication.

"I think people have an idea that we are trading a lot of secret information through e-mail," Clawson said. "Really, a lot of it is very mundane."

Corman said his move was sparked by the state attorney general's office, which has pushed for greater accessibility to local government records in recent years. Some municipalities have responding by posting more documents online, while others keep council members' e-mail on CDs that can be requested by the public.

Greg Overstreet, special assistant attorney general for government accountability, said he had not yet heard of Corman's move.

"I think it's a great idea," Overstreet said. "It takes the middleman out of the process of getting public records."

Not everyone agrees.

Inez Petersen, 61, a retired computer programmer who has written about 45 percent of the requests filed in Renton over the past year, said Corman's arrangement would make it harder to find pertinent information.

One of her requests, for all correspondence over the past six years that mentioned her by name, was based on a tip that a council member had written, "I hate Inez," repeatedly in e-mail. She never found it.

Corman, however, said that episode showed another potential benefit of releasing all e-mail — making public officials more civil.

"Inside e-mail, there's name-calling that occurs, there's crazy assumptions that people make, there's unsubstantiated reframing of issues," he said, "and I'm not just talking about constituents. Often it's other public officials that are doing it."



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Last modified: January 16. 2007 12:00AM