State ombudsman will assist public with open records, meetings

OLYMPIA — The state will soon have a full-time ombudsman again to help elected officials and residents entangled in disputes on open meetings and public records.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Monday he will restore the state’s open government ombudsman to a full-time job. Created in 2005, the ombudsman’s duties had been reduced to part-time in 2011 because of budget cuts.

“In the interest of promoting open, transparent government, I have decided to invest in a full-time open government ombudsman position that serves the public, media and government agencies on open government issues,” Ferguson said in a prepared statement.

Jason Mercier, a member of the Washington Coalition for Open Government board of directors, praised the decision.

“This is a fantastic development for the people’s right to know,” he said. “The trend we continue to see across the state when it comes to violations of the public records or open meeting laws is a failure to understand what the requirements are. Having a full-time ombudsman should allow for more training and education of public officials to help them comply with the law and maintain its intent.”

Ferguson now needs to fill the job. It became vacant in August when former ombudsman Tim Ford departed to work for the state Senate Law and Justice Committee.

The job posting went up Monday. It calls for the hiring of an assistant attorney general whose duties will include answering questions from the public, media and government agencies on compliance with Washington’s public records and open meeting laws.

It also will entail developing training materials on those laws for use online and in-person.

In his tenure, Ford conducted 169 training sessions for local governments and other groups and responded to more than 3,800 contacts from the public, press and others, according to information provided by the Attorney General’s Office.

Deadline to apply for the position is Oct. 1.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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