By Jack Mayne
The Des Moines City Council was told Thursday night that a citizen named Tim Clemans has demanded release of all public records of the city – as well as for all 39 cities in King County – because it would be “significantly better” if all public business was online.
City Manager Tony Piasecki told the Council at a study session Thursday (Dec. 3) that the city has received a public records request from a person to inspect “every record we have,” a request the person has made to every city in King County.
“Essentially what he has asked for is every single record – paper record, electronic record, emails, meta data, text messages, everything,” he said. “Of course that is hundreds of thousands of documents, thousands and thousands of hours of staff time retrieving them. At this point, we need to take this request seriously – we have asked staff (and Council members) please, don’t destroy any record you have.”
Clemans said in his e-mail to this reporter that government “will be significantly better when virtually everything about it is online especially when the time from an action to time of disclosure is very short.”
Who pays the fees?
Councilmember Bob Sheckler asked how he would pay the required fees for the requests and Piasecki said the requester was hoping he would get them all electronically and would not have to pay for them or that the cities would waive the fees.
“His intent is to create this Website, I think he is calling it ‘Inside your Government.com’.
Clemans addressed the fees in an email response to our email question. He said he wanted to inspect them and not get them delivered to him.
“I requested inspection because agencies have the right to charge 10 percent of the estimated copying charge. Even electronic copies have a copying charge,” Clemans wrote.
In another email from him, Clemans told The Waterland Blog he “watched the video of the (Council) discussion.”
“I am not doing this request outside of King County because I can’t afford to travel outside the county to inspect the records. I would be making my own copies with cell phone of paper records and providing electronic materials for the electronic records.”
Piasecki said at the Thursday night Council meeting that the idea apparently is that a person could go on the Website created by Clemans, click on any city and have all of those cities’ records, Piasecki said.
He said the electronic record would not be difficult, except that city staff would have to go through “a lot of them to make sure there was no attorney-client privilege in there or any other exemptions … then there are documents that need to be redacted but could still be released.”
“It is an enormous amount of work,” said Piasecki.
Councilmember Vic Pennington said there was a similar request in Snohomish County a few years earlier that they said would take two people over a year and cost “a couple of hundred thousand dollars.”
Why do this?
“People simply do better when watched,” wrote Clemans. “The free open source software I’m developing will allow people to get alerts about new information for a particular search. For example if you are a homeowner concerned about violent crime in your neighborhood in the near future you’ll be able to get any violent crime data within your set radius in your inbox.
“For journalists and activists their queries will be much more involved, like saying ‘immediately tell me when a manager is accused of misconduct’”.
Clemans added, “There’s a lot of work to be done.
“Installment number one is focused on getting the basic information detailed profiles about government employees.”
Wants lunch dates
Piasecki said last night that Clemans wanted all back and forth text messages or a possible lunch date or any other communication.
“He calls out in his request that simple acknowledgements ‘of we’re going to have lunch this afternoon’ are things he wants to have in his public records request.
“He very nicely puts it that he wants it in nine installments and he lists what he wants in each installment and the ninth installment is ‘everything else that I haven’t gotten yet’.”
He said the city clerks have been “talking back and forth, city attorneys have been calling taking about what we are going to do about this.”
Mayor Dave Kaplan asked how many cities were sent this request.
“There are 39 cities in King County and, as far as we know, he has hit them all,” Piasecki said.
Burien and Seattle too
Burien got their request on Tuesday and Seattle was the first city to get the request.
“If you recall, this is a gentleman who had made a public records request about a year ago asking for text messages and emails and the like from all cities in the state,” Piasecki said. “Seattle was working with him and they offered him a job to come and work in their IT department and one of the things he agreed to do by accepting the job was to withdraw his public records requests to all the cities, which he did.
“Evidently a few months ago, there was a parting of the ways … and he no longer works for the City of Seattle and he immediately made that request to them and now it out to all of us in King County and he is going to make this request to every city in the state.”
The Stranger newspaper on Oct. 29 had a story about Clemens departure from Seattle’s employ:
“Tim Clemans, the award-winning programmer who bombarded the Seattle Police Department with public disclosure requests until it took the unusual step of hiring him resigned today — the culmination of months of mounting tensions between him and the department. ‘I’m really just fed up at this point,’” Clemens said according to The Stranger.
Apparently tensions began in August when Clemens said he had “created a computer program that helps 911 dispatchers do their jobs more efficiently by highlighting the most serious calls.”
But the weekly newspaper said here was a dispute with a Seattle Police captain, who demanded changes to that system had to “go through him and Clemens, says the Stranger story, “admits that when that happened, he ‘blew up,’ yelling and cursing the captain … and was escorted out of the building and hasn’t been allowed back to SPD headquarters since then.”
Clemens in the Stranger story said, “I’m going to PDR (public disclosure request) the shit out of you.”
Piasecki told the Council that “as far as where it goes next, I don’t know,” adding he would keep the Des Moines Council aware of strategies of other cities.
“I concur with Tony’s concerns,” Burien City Manager Kameron Gurol said. “This request creates a substantial workload for our lean staff. We’ll need to figure out how to comply with the request while continuing to provide the services our residents and businesses rely on.”
Here’s video of Piasecki discussing the issue at Thursday night’s session:
Here’s a Tweet Clemans posted on Nov. 23, 2015:
My life’s mission is to make government transparent by default.
— Tim Clemans (@tandrewclemans) November 23, 2015
Here’s a video story about Clemans and his work with the Seattle Police Department: