FREEDoc Public Information Management Guides

Handling Information within a Public Agency — The FAQ’s, Do’s and Don’ts of Public Information Management

These documents were developed by FreeDoc at the request of a Washington State agency to meet their needs to create a more compliant work environment in regards to the Public Records Act. The information was taken directly from the Washington State Secretary of State’s website.

A document has been created specifically for each of these individuals:

  • Elected and Appointed Officials
  • Public Records Officer
  • Staff, Contractors and Volunteers.

Consult the Washington State Secretary of State, your agency’s attorney, Public Records Officer, or Compliance Officer for final determination and use within your agency. FreeDoc is unable to accept any liability for misuse, or miss application of this information. This information is provided as a convenient courtesy for your fair use.

FreeDoc Public Information Management Guides - Staff, Contractors and Volunteers

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FreeDoc Public Information Management Guides - Elected and Appointed Officials

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2 PO Box 2007, Bothell, WA 98041 425.977.4222
One of the obligations of open government is to conduct operations and functions
in an open and transparent manner. Washington State Public Record laws provide
a framework for compliance and transparency into the management of public
records. These are described in the Public Records Act, RCW 42.56. Washington State
laws for open public meetings are detailed in RCW 42.30, Open Public Meetings Act.
These are commonly referred to as ‘sunshine laws’. Sunshine laws require
transparency and disclosure in all levels of government, making the records
(including documents, emails, text messages, audio/video files and data) that reflect
the actions and decisions of government (meetings, voting, deliberations, etc.) and
all official actions available for public observation, participation and inspection.
All elected officials, members of governing bodies, and
agency staff are legally compelled to comply with all aspects
of the Public Records Act, with retention of all records and
communications according to records retention schedules
approved by the State and Local Government Records
The Open Government Trainings Act (ESB5964) mandates public officials and
agency records officers to receive training. Violations of the Open Public Meetings
Act can result in lawsuits. These lawsuits have been brought against both the agency
and individuals involved for personal liability when attending a meeting or
communicating issues about agency business. This includes the use of email and
text messaging, when done outside of the requirements. Courts also determine
outcomes from such meetings null and void, and have awarded both costs and
attorney fees to individuals seeking a successful remedy.
Violation of the Public Records Act can result in breakdown
of public confidence in government, and an accompanying
judicial award of financial penalties and personal

3 PO Box 2007, Bothell, WA 98041 425.977.4222
RCW 40.16.010 allows fines and imprisonment for destroying public records before
the legal permissible date. (Former Selah City Supervisor ordered to pay $65,474.00
in restitution for attempting to wipe electronic files from his laptop.)
Washington State courts have issued numerous fines against government agencies
over the last decade for non-compliance to the Public Records Act. (Department of
Social and Health Services [DSHS] for $650,000 [Wright v. DSHS]. In addition, the
agency reached a settlement with Wright for $2.85 million).
Ignorance of the law provides no defense for its violation. Training can assist with
compliance and is an important part of risk management. Training embeds
compliance into everyday workflow and sets the foundation for individual behavior.
Training reduces risks of lawsuits and associated litigation costs. As the Washington
State Supreme Court has explained, “An agency’s compliance with the Public Records
Act is only as reliable as the weakest link in the chain. If an agency employee along the
line fails to comply, the agency’s response will be incomplete, if not illegal.” (Progressive
Animal Welfare Society v. University of Washington).
Members of a governing body, such as councils, boards and commissions must
receive Open Public Meetings Act training on chapter 42.30 RCW and on the Public
Records Act (RCW 42.56). Committees or other policy or rule making bodies of the
agency must take the same training if they act on behalf of a governing body,
conduct hearings or take testimony or public comment. Members of informal
advisory bodies not meeting the definition of public agency according to RCW
42.30.020 are not required to take training.
RCW 42.30.205 mandates the aforementioned members must receive training no
later than 90 days after they take their oath of office or assume his or her duties.
Training may be taken before she or he is sworn in or assume duties of the office.
Individuals must also receive refresher training at intervals of no more than four
years, so long as he or she is a member of a governing body. The Office of the
Attorney General, Office of the Secretary of State and FreeDoc® highly recommend
more frequent and specific training. These are the minimum requirements set by

4 PO Box 2007, Bothell, WA 98041 425.977.4222
Washington State law. Both legislation and best practices are prone to change more
frequently than this prescribed time frame. It is prudent to incorporate the most
recent information in trainings.
If a member of a governing body is also an elected local official, he or she must
receive Open Public Meetings Act training on chapter 42.30 RCW, RCW 42.56 Public
Records Act training and records retention training on understanding and applying
mandates of RCW 40.14 Preservation and Destruction of Public Records. The Office
of the Attorney General, Office of the Secretary of State and FreeDoc® can provide
this training.
Washington State Engrossed Senate Bill 5964 established the Open Government
Trainings Act. Each agency elected official and each person appointed to fill a
vacancy must complete a training course regarding RCW 42.56, Public Records Act.
The law includes:
• The definition of a public record.
• Common exemptions from public records disclosure.
• Public disclosure processes.
• Training.
• Protections of public records.
They must also complete a training course relating to the provisions of chapter 40.14
RCW, Preservation and Destruction of Public Records. This law:
• Defines and classifies public records.
• Describes the function, duties and responsibilities of the State Archivist.
• Identifies the duties of public officials.
• Explains the roles of the Secretary of State Archives and Records Management
• Communicates the power and duties of records officers.
• Provides for the legal destruction and disposition of public records.
• Describes legislative records use and access.

5 PO Box 2007, Bothell, WA 98041 425.977.4222
All training must be completed within ninety days of taking the oath of office or
assumption of duties as a public official. This includes training taken before
individuals are sworn in or assumption of official duties. Refresher training must be
completed within four years as long as he or she holds the office. Again, FreeDoc®
highly recommends more frequent training as case law, legislation and evolving
technologies prompts more frequent changes and updates to the laws. The fouryear interval is the minimum requirement by Washington State law.
Training must be consistent with the Office of the Attorney General’s Model Rules,
chapter 44-14 WAC, for compliance with the Public Records Act. It may be
completed remotely with technology, but not limited to internet-based training.
The Model Rules provides information on ‘best practices’, includes a review of the
requirements set forth in the Public Records Act, basic retention requirements,
what is a records retention schedule and a brief description of what schedule(s)
apply to each of the departments, as an example.
If an elected local official is also a member of a governing body, the official must
receive both open public meetings and records trainings. The Office of the Attorney
General and vendors, such as FreeDoc®, can provide this training.
In regards to the Public Records Act, documented training of agency officials and
staff in the proper use, management and caretaking of public records has been
shown to reduce penalties (Yousoufian v. Office of Ron Sims – 2010).
These resources are from the Washington Attorney General’s Office and the Office
of the Secretary of State and are provided for convenient review and use by your
These links to training can assist with compliance along with other sources to
• Office of the Attorney General Open Government Training.
• Office of the Secretary of State Open Government Training.

6 PO Box 2007, Bothell, WA 98041 425.977.4222
Washington State Archives advice sheets (FAQs) summarize proper records
• What is a Public Record?
• Are Emails Public Records?
• Are Emails Public Records?
Any email or text messages regarding agency business
meets the definition of a public record (RCW 40.14.010).
All agency communication is a public record. Emails and
texts are subject to the PRA, whether or not the account or
device is owned by the person or the agency;
NOTE – Any device (agency or personal) used to
communicate agency business is subject to full and
unlimited discovery and disclosure of the device and all of its
• How Long Do Emails Need to be Kept?
• Keep the Last Email or All Emails in the Thread?
• Text Messages.
• Text Messages and Public Records – The Basics.
• How Long Do Voicemails Need to be Kept?
• Examples of Common Records with Minimal Retention.
• What Does “Until No Longer Needed for Agency Business” Mean?

FreeDoc Public Information Management Guides - Public Records Officer

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