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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Re: Release The Names

Posted by on Wed, Jun 3, 2009 at 5:30 PM

I just got off the phone with Dave Coffman, the attorney representing several city employees involved in an LGBT group who are trying to block the city from releasing their names. Philip Irvin, a Seattle City Light employee who supports conservative anti-gay organizations, requested their information from the city in May.

However, King County Superior Court issued a restraining order that temporarily blocks the city from releasing personal information about members of the "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Friends (LGBTQ&F)" affinity group.

“There seems to be rank hypocrisy among the gay community,” Irvin argued on Faith and Freedom blog. His public information request, he said, reflected a campaign to release the names of people who sign Referendum 71, which is an attempt to block the domestic-partnership bill.

But Coffman says the comparison is apples to oranges. The key in determining whether personal information should be made public rests on state law, which says the public must hold an interest in accessing private information. In the case of a referendum, Coffman says, the public needs to verify that authorized voters signed a petition—thus that information needs to be publicly available.

However, Coffman argues, “I don’t think there is a public interest in identifying who these people are." He says that it's unclear what city resources were invested in the group, what the threshold for membership was, or what personal information (such as email addresses) the city might have. For instance, he is concerned that someone who attended one meeting but had no real stake in the group could be outed.

“The interest is Mr. Irvin’s alone, and I would suggest it is for nefarious purposes,” says Coffman. It's an intimidation tactic that "smacks of something that would happen in the South, circa 1962."

On June 17, a King County Superior Court judge will hear the case; depending on the judge's action, the case could be resolved or could wind up at trial.

Irvin did not immediately return calls to comment.


Comments (35) RSS

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Toasterhedgehog 1
So the difference is that anti-gay bigots are violent thugs that will physically harm people that belong to the club. It's a matter of protecting their safety. Releasing the names of people that signed a petition will not put a single person in danger. If there were no precedence of violence among gay-haters, it wouldn't be a big deal to release the names.
Posted by Toasterhedgehog on June 3, 2009 at 5:43 PM · Report this
SchmuckyTheCat 2
"King County Superior Court issued a restraining order"
No, the Court did not issue an order. A judge who belonged to the court did. Judges are elected officials, any reporter who says a judge does something without naming the Judge isn't doing their job.
Posted by SchmuckyTheCat on June 3, 2009 at 6:10 PM · Report this
devilsmoke 3
It sounds like Irvin's technically correct that this is public info. However, like the guy who asked for the salaries of every state employee and posted them online, he's not going to make a lot of friends this way. No one cares how little John Smith the UW instructor makes, it helps the public not at all to know that Jane Doe is part of a GLBT group, and both actions hurt everyone's sense of privacy a little.

On the other hand, it really does seem like the guy behind is making a good faith effort to start conversation about something of timely importance to the citizens of Washington...We'll see how this all turns out.
Posted by devilsmoke on June 3, 2009 at 6:10 PM · Report this
Good Grief 4
Bullshit -- there were many of us in the thread about the Referendum 71 "plan" who warned about unintended consequences, but we mostly all got mocked.

So now we have this to deal with, and we have to fuck around spending court dollars and time wrangling over it. I think Dan was right before (which is odd enough already) -- if this is an "official" city group that uses city resources in any sort of meaningful way, the request needs to be respected as a FOIA request. If, as this guy Coffman is claiming (shockingly), there is NO city involvement, then it should be pretty open and shut.

Regardless, I doubt this would have come up if not for the Australian running the R-71 program telling us all how US Representative Democracy is supposed to work.
Posted by Good Grief on June 3, 2009 at 6:14 PM · Report this
I think the best move for the members of this LGBT group is to go over to the Bigot's House and introduce themselves, get right personal and all nice and neighbor like, maybe even have a nice sit in.
Posted by Jeffrey on June 3, 2009 at 6:21 PM · Report this
Reality Check 6
@4 I was one of those warning of the Pandora's box of consequences.

Irvin is right. This is RANK hypocrisy at its finest.

Posted by Reality Check on June 3, 2009 at 6:26 PM · Report this
devilsmoke 7
also: I say that the whosigned business seems to be on the up and up because even if Ref 71 makes it on the ballot, I can't imagine it'll actually pass. Why would you exert yourself to intimidate against an issue that's unlikely to pass?

then again, I'm sympathetic to the cause, so maybe I'm just being naive.
Posted by devilsmoke on June 3, 2009 at 6:26 PM · Report this
@4 seeing this an unintended consequence of is absurd. Irvin filed his request a month prior to whosigned being formed.
Posted by JohnnyC on June 3, 2009 at 6:37 PM · Report this
Baconcat 9
@6: You're grasping at straws (and I think you grabbed a crazy straw).

This is not a consequence of, this was lodged as a complaint numerous times for several years now. Their names are not public information, only the support network, such as leaders, outside support and any official complicit in the gifting of public funds, should that be an issue.

People are free to join organizations such as these, whether they are employees or elected officials (there are dozens of orgs for financial staff, administrative staff, etc.). The roster and membership isn't public information, only the names of those complicit in the gifting or misappropriation of public funds, but there has been no proof or potential discovery of such proof.
Posted by Baconcat on June 3, 2009 at 6:56 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 10
Most of the time I sign referendums its because I'm coming out of Top Food, shopping for dinner after work and too tired to walk away from the people at the tables asking me to sign.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on June 3, 2009 at 7:07 PM · Report this
@1's point is the important one. People who agree with Irvin have to refute that or they lose this argument.
Posted by TValley on June 3, 2009 at 7:23 PM · Report this
@1's point is 100% total queer whining squealing bitch hypocrisy BULLSHIT.
Posted by Credibility FAIL on June 3, 2009 at 7:47 PM · Report this
Reality Check 13
fair enough @9

Thanks for that perspective...
Posted by Reality Check on June 3, 2009 at 7:53 PM · Report this

Statutory Provisions: The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created. This chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy. RCW 42.56.030.

Courts shall take into account the policy of this chapter that free and open examination of public records is in the public interest, even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or others. RCW 42.56.550(3).

In any “gray areas,” a court will look to the requirement to interpret the Act in favor of disclosure and will decide a dispute in favor of open government.

1.2 What Is A “Public Record”

The PRA adopts the definitions in chapter 42.17 RCW, the older version of the PRA. RCW 42.56.010.

Statutory Provisions: "Public record" includes any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics. For the office of the secretary of the senate and the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives, public records means legislative records as defined in RCW 40.14.100 and also means the following: All budget and financial records; personnel leave, travel, and payroll records; records of legislative sessions; reports submitted to the legislature; and any other record designated a public record by any official action of the senate or the house of representatives. RCW 42.17.020(41).

"Writing" means handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, and every other means of recording any form of communication or representation, including, but not limited to, letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combination thereof, and all papers, maps, magnetic or paper tapes, photographic films and prints, motion picture, film and video recordings, magnetic or punched cards, discs, drums, diskettes, sound recordings, and other documents including existing data compilations from which information may be obtained or translated. RCW 42.17.020(48).
Posted by abc on June 3, 2009 at 8:19 PM · Report this
The definition of a public record (other than a record of the Legislature) contains three elements. See generally WAC 44-14-03001. First, the record must be a "writing," which is broadly defined in RCW 42.17.020(48) to include any recording of any communication, image or sound. A writing includes not only conventional letters and memoranda, but also emails, videos, photos and computer data.

Second, the writing must relate to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function. Virtually every document a government agency has relates in some way to the conduct of government business or functions.
Posted by abc on June 3, 2009 at 8:22 PM · Report this
Since Washington state and local law-enforcement officers are not "secret police," their full names must be released if requested under the state Public Disclosure Act, a Washington court recently ruled. (King County v. Sheehan, Nov. 12, 2002). This decision prevents law-enforcement agencies from withholding information about police officers that the court acknowledged is crucial to news reporting.

William Sheehan III operates a controversial Web site that is highly critical of police. In the past, Sheehan posted identifying information about King County police officers, including their home addresses, on the Web site.

In May 2000, Sheehan submitted public-records requests to local police agencies in the Puget Sound area, asking for a list of the full names of every law-enforcement officer and lawyer employed by them. After receiving the request, a King County Sheriff's Office employee determined that a person with access to the first and last name of a law-enforcement officer could determine their home addresses using public information provided by the King County Assessor's Office. The Public Disclosure Act shields the home addresses of government employees from disclosure.

As a result, King County refused to provide most of the information requested by Sheehan. Subsequently, the county refused a similar request from The Seattle Times.
Posted by abc on June 3, 2009 at 8:27 PM · Report this
A person making a public records request is not required by the Act to give a reason for the request, except in the rare instances where the agency needs to know the purpose to determine if the request would violate a statute (such as the ban on requests of lists of individuals for commercial purposes, discussed below) . See WAC 44-14-04003(1). Except for commercial uses, release of information may not be limited by the purpose of the request. Dawson v. Daly, 120 Wn.2d 782, 845 P.2d 995 (1993); Yacobellis v. City of Bellingham, 55 Wn. App. 706, 710, 780 P.2d 272 (1989), review denied, 114 Wn.2d 1002 (1990). In some cases, agencies may require additional information, such as an authorization for health care records, to show why the requester is entitled to the record if the record is normally exempt and can only be disclosed to certain persons.
Posted by abc on June 3, 2009 at 8:36 PM · Report this
trstr 18
@14,15,16: Missed a spot.

RCW 42.56.050
Invasion of privacy, when.

A person's "right to privacy," "right of privacy," "privacy," or "personal privacy," as these terms are used in this chapter, is invaded or violated only if disclosure of information about the person: (1) Would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (2) is not of legitimate concern to the public. The provisions of this chapter dealing with the right to privacy in certain public records do not create any right of privacy beyond those rights that are specified in this chapter as express exemptions from the public's right to inspect, examine, or copy public records.


I think that publishing the names of the members of a GLBT group, or any kind of support group,.would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. If whoever decides these things thinks otherwise, they'd be taken to court, and they would lose. Releasing the names would be a goddamn clear violation of the 14th amendment.
Posted by trstr on June 3, 2009 at 8:50 PM · Report this
Thanks 18 - the courts have been pretty consistent in ruling that most information must be released. See the police case above.

I can see why people wouldn't want this released but as always we can see there are problems on the other side.

If the gov't sponsored some pro life club, should that information be made public? What about a KKK club in Mt. Vernon? (Glenn Beck was raised a Roman Catholic in Mt. Vernon, Washington)

Perhaps the city just shouldn't sponsor clubs.

Serious question. Is everyone in the city eligible to go to the meetings? Couldn't a mole go and report the names?
Posted by abc on June 3, 2009 at 9:20 PM · Report this
Won't Irvin's lawyer argue that by joining the public group voluntarily, it can't be offensive or they wouldn't have joined.

The public interest would be that special treatment could be given by members to members.

Of course, both conditions have to be met to deny the request.

The more I think about this, the more I don't like sponsorship of clubs by the city.
Posted by abc on June 3, 2009 at 9:35 PM · Report this
trstr 21

The names of public employees are generally considered to be public records. Their medical care, partially paid for by public money as part of the employer contribution to an insurance plan, is not a public record.

Should government sponsored clubs be made public? Yes, and they are. Whatever support services a public employer provides are certainly public records. The names of the people who use those services? No. Obviously not. Again, the right to privacy is enshrined in the US Constitution. State law doesn't trump federal law.

The answer to your "serious" question: No.

Thanks for the information that Glenn Beck was raised a Roman Catholic in Mt. Vernon, Washington. You win the non sequitur award.
Posted by trstr on June 3, 2009 at 9:42 PM · Report this
Baconcat 22
@18: You're right, and here's the court's statement of the same:

Every individual has some phases of his life and his activities and some facts about himself that he
does not expose to the public eye, but keeps entirely to himself or at most reveals only to his family
or to close personal friends. Sexual relations, for example, are normally entirely private matters, as
are family quarrels, many unpleasant or disgraceful illnesses, most intimate personal letters, most
details of a man’s life in his home, and some of his past history that he would rather forget. When
these intimate details of his life are spread before the public gaze in a manner highly offensive to the
ordinary reasonable man, there is an actionable invasion of his privacy, unless the matter is one of
legitimate public interest

Given Irvin's history, he is in violation of the right to privacy. They can block it as much as they can counter-sue him. The problem with that, though, is that they'd out themselves in the course of suing him.

I have to stress that Dan is now entirely complicit in Irvin's actions and any aid or assistance rendered in an effort to out these individuals is an "actionable invasion of [their] privacy", as set forth in the RCW.

Of course, Dan could simply be egging him on so that people notice that, "hey, they're doing it too!"

Anyway, the only information that I can see being able to be released is:
-Requester of public spaces
-Circumstances of their meetings (and if it constitutes a legitimate "affinity group")
-To what extent were their actions confidential (typically with affinity groups, 100%)
-To what extent were they allowed to participate, primarily investigating their actual usage of work hours

Names are an invasion of privacy, and given his specific intent, Irvin has removed his eligibility to obtain any such information.
Posted by Baconcat on June 3, 2009 at 9:42 PM · Report this
trstr 23
@20: What about Boeing sponsoring clubs by employees? Mictosoft?

Most large employers do provide a wide range of support services to their employees, from mental health counseling to daycare to ridesharing. These things make employees happy, which is generally perceived to help the company make better products/provide better services. They may even save the employer money (insurance premium reductions due to health-related support groups, reduced need for parking spaces due to ridesharing, and so on).

Do we get a good return for our tax money from this? It's a valid question. I doubt that the city spends a lot for the GLBT group. Health insurance plans, on the other hand, I'm sure they pay out the wazoo. So, yeah, we should keep the city accountable for what they spend their money on.

Publishing the names of a GLBT group (or cancer support group, or employees who drive cars to work) does not in any way, shape, or form assist us in keeping the city accountable. That's a big reason why such a list will never be provided. It runs completely contrary to the intent (and to the letter) of the Public Records law.
Posted by trstr on June 3, 2009 at 9:55 PM · Report this
If the city contributed a penny (or an $8 bottle of wine) it's public and it's fair game. If the city paid nothing and they are only linked to the city by their employment then PRIVATE.

Still, I'm alarmed by the people one way on the I71 issue and reversed on this. I think the I71 movement is totally legal but the benefit is questionable - at least in public opinion. To say those people don't risk fear but the LGBTQ group does is BS

Posted by city_employed_faggot on June 3, 2009 at 9:57 PM · Report this
20 minutes of searching for public records returned the following results:

Philip Charles Irvin, born: 25 JUL, 1950 (Age: 58), in Texass
Address: 7704 Mary Ave NW, Seattle 98117
Phone: 206.386.4526 or 206.782.3564 (werk) or (personal)

Married to: Joan Thelma Irvin, born 08 SEP 1942 (Age: 66). Teaches at the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center (SBOC).
Daughter (still living at home): Lois Ruth Harris, PhD, born 20 OCT 1979 (Age: 30). Loves penguins.
Adjacent neighbor: Joyce Wilkinson (Age: 76) at 7708 Mary Ave NW (206.789.9987).

Friend him on Facebook:…

I'd dig further, but only the first 20 minutes are free. Also, all information presented is merely a matter of "public record," and if this was a paying job, I'd have much more PUBLIC information about him after going to some offices and reading some papers. Luckily, I'm only motivated by paying gigs these days.

This information is only as accurate its public sources. mmbb_c is not liable for any inaccuracies or the misuse of this information. LIBRARIANS RULE!! :)
Posted by mmbb_c on June 3, 2009 at 10:37 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 26
Did you have to bring poor Joyce into it? It's not her fault she has a dreadful neighbor.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on June 3, 2009 at 11:09 PM · Report this
Medical records are generally private. The courts have ruled that medical records of police and fire people that go on disability are public records.

No one is required to disclose their sexual preference except as part of domestic partners getting benefits. This creates an interesting situation in that just roommates don't qualify for benefits. Should the public be able to know which of our employees are getting domestic benefits?

There is a big difference between a private company and the public sector.

#21 - are you saying that anybody that wants to go the club can't? Of course, the club would have to be open.
Posted by abc on June 3, 2009 at 11:41 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 28
What if this were a city-sponsored employee softball or bowling team? A group of city employees who had a lunchtime book club? A group of employees who decided to have a bake sale for the city charity drive? A group of employees who meet in a break room before their shift to read the Bible?

All of these exist. All of them use "city resources" to a certain extent. Some are semi-permanent (the bowling team) some are ad-hoc (the bake sale) Where exactly does the city's responsibility begin and end?

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on June 3, 2009 at 11:53 PM · Report this
Off topic:

the historic Obama speech in Cairo will be shown at 9 pm pacific time on MSNBC.

Apparently he did great, invoking Abraham, Jesus and Muhammed [applause] what unites us is more than what divides us etc.

Just going there and speaking shows a level of respect that has been sadly missing.

He also worked in salaam aleukeum (sp?) in Arabic...

in sum, mazeltov!
Posted by PC on June 4, 2009 at 6:29 AM · Report this
There is more to the story - Phil Irvin has systemically attacked employee LGBT groups and protested LGBT employee benefits at the city of Seattle during his entire tenure there...he's filed a complaint against every queer elected (Harris, Podldowski, Clark, etc...) And generally makes himself a nuisance -
Posted by Muffin1960 on June 4, 2009 at 6:48 AM · Report this
trstr 31
@27: I'm going to call bullshit on that. Exactly which cases have determined that a government employees's medical records are public records? That doesn't even pass the smell test.

I've found a case where the *personnel* records of Oregon fire and police on disability are public record (e.g., who they are, how much they were paid, whether they reported outside income), but that's a far fucking cry from their medical records.
Posted by trstr on June 4, 2009 at 7:26 AM · Report this
"Where exactly does the city's responsibility begin and end?"

If the city keeps records, they are public. Clearly if the city sponsors a bowling team or lets the team recruit through city resources all records that the city has are public.

If a group were allowed to meet in a room, all records making that room available would be a public record.

The law says that an agency doesn't need to create records that don't exist. If the LGBT group didn't have a membership through the city or in city correspondence, they wouldn't be obligated to create a document.

All WA State government records are public unless there is a strong reason to keep them private. Irvin could request the emails of all employees that he knows are part of the group and see to whom they mail.

If LGBT employees mentioned that they are LGBT in every email that wouldn't make them exempt, but that line could be redacted.

Once certain groups are exempt from disclosure, all groups will want the exemption.
Posted by abc on June 4, 2009 at 7:44 AM · Report this
#31 - I meant only the medical records pertaining to the disability.

Disclosing medical records in firefighters’ disability retirement records is not highly offensive when
none of the medical conditions in the records was disgraceful or humiliating. Seattle
Firefighters Union Local No. 27 v. Hollister, 48 Wn. App. 129, 136 (1987)
Posted by abc on June 4, 2009 at 8:24 AM · Report this
trstr 34
@33: Huh.

In that case, I am very much glad that I don't work for the City of Seattle, then. Thanks for the info.
Posted by trstr on June 4, 2009 at 6:36 PM · Report this
Your welcome
Posted by abc on June 4, 2009 at 7:31 PM · Report this

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