Gregoire stays quiet on ‘Sunshine Committee’

OLYMPIA Gov. Chris Gregoire has refused to reveal the identities of some people who weren’t picked for seats on the state’s new “Sunshine Committee.”

Gregoire, responding to an Associated Press public records request, has kept secret several resumes, letters and e-mail exchanges from unsuccessful applicants to the committee.

In her reply, the Democratic governor cited an exemption to public records law that says applications for public employment can be kept secret.

Open government experts scoffed at that reasoning, pointing out that compensation for Sunshine Committee service is limited to travel reimbursements that several members don’t actually qualify for.

“That doesn’t make them employees of the state,” said Toby Nixon, acting president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and a former state legislator.

“I don’t think what the governor is doing in terms of withholding these documents, claiming they are applications for employment, is right at all,” Nixon said. “And I think that the word ironic is a very good word.”

But Melynda Campbell, a legal assistant in Gregoire’s legal office, said the administration considers every person appointed to a board or commission by the governor to be a public employee under the Public Records Act exemption.

Under that reasoning, Campbell said, people who ask that they be appointed to a panel such as the Sunshine Committee must have their identities kept secret.

“I could be out applying for jobs all over the place and not want my boss to know about it,” Campbell said. “You just have to consider their privacy.”

Potential appointees recommended by a third party, however, don’t have that same protection, Campbell said.

Gregoire spokeswoman Holly Armstrong, who said she wasn’t familiar with the legal reasoning behind the records denial, said such disagreements point to the reason for the Sunshine Committee itself.

“This is, in effect, why we have a Sunshine Committee, to go back and see what this law means, and see why we need to revise or clean up this law,” Armstrong said.

Gregoire appointed six of the panel’s 13 members, and also chose the group’s chairman.

The committee also includes four state lawmakers, two people appointed by Attorney General Rob McKenna, and one person selected by state Auditor Brian Sonntag.

The Associated Press had requested all communications received by the governor’s office regarding appointments to the committee.

In response, Gregoire provided several letters and e-mails that dealt with potential appointees, and at least two resumes.

But the governor withheld 10 documents, including letters, resumes and e-mails about the appointment process.

The state law keeping “applications for public employment” from public view was cited in each of those 10 cases, and the administration said all materials that weren’t released dealt with people who had not won seats on the committee.

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