Seeking to promote open government, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington today filed a lawsuit seeking public documents about the City of Seattle's stance in contract negotiations with the Seattle Police Guild. The suit was filed under the Washington Public Disclosure Act in King County Superior Court.
"In its contract negotiations with the Police Guild, the City of Seattle will be discussing important issues relating to police accountability. The public needs to know the City's position to make sure that the City is insisting on a strong, effective system to hold police accountable," said ACLU-WA Legal Program Director Julya Hampton.
To begin contract negotiations, the City and the Police Guild are required to exchange lists of topics to be discussed. In April 2003 the ACLU requested these lists. The documents involve matters of public concern, including the City's procedures for investigating allegations of police misconduct. The City declined to disclose the documents. The ACLU asserts that their disclosure will aid public understanding about policies vital to ensuring that police are accountable to the citizenry they serve and that issue lists are not exempt under the Washington Public Disclosure Act.
"Public policy should not be made behind closed doors and without public comment. Policies regarding police accountability in particular must be made in a way that engenders public confidence," said Dorry Elias,
Executive Director of the Minority Executive Director's Coalition (MEDC) of King County. "The MEDC fails to see any valid justification for keeping the citizens of Seattle in the dark," she added.
"The public has a democratic right to know at least the outline if not the details of discussions that will directly affect them. Such knowledge is crucial if Seattle citizens, especially those who are minority and young, are to have any trust in the system that is ultimately created," said Mothers for Police Accountability in a statement backing the suit.
ACLU-WA staff attorney Aaron Caplan and Public Interest Fellow Gail Gove are handling the case for the ACLU.