Constituent upset about town halls
Despite repeated requests by constituents via phone, email, and even in person, Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, representing Southwest Washington’s 3rd District, does not seem to want to hold a Town Hall to meet with her constituents. However, after several hundred of her constituents gathered at her Vancouver office to ask her questions about her position on healthcare, Jaime held an impromptu Town Hall via telephone. Problem is, no one was invited. The automated call came from her office informing recipients that a Town Hall was currently in progress and that all one needed to do to attend was to stay on the line. There was no prior notification of the Town Hall and people who didn’t answer the call, but instead received a voicemail, were not told how to join the call. Below is the transcript of the voicemail.
“Hi, this is Congresswoman Jamie Herrera. Tonight I was calling residents of Southwest Washington to invite you to participate in a live, toll free virtual town hall meeting to discuss job creation, healthcare, the federal budget, protecting Social Security and Medicare and other important issues here in our region. I’m sorry I missed you. I’ll be hosting more telephone and live town halls in the coming months, and I hope you’ll be able to join me for one of these future events. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my district office at (360) 695-6292. Thank you so much.”
It was not clear how individuals were selected by Beutler’s staff to ask questions on the call. In a call to her office the following day questioning why constituents weren’t notified of the call in advance, one of her staffers indicated that they would “suggest that for future meetings.”
It would seem that this is not the first time that Jaime Herrera Beutler tried to hold a Town Hall meeting that she, apparently, did not want people to know about. A Politico article from 2011 entitled, “Herrera Beutler’s hush-hush town hall” describes how, in October, Beutler asked a local reporter not to publicize her town hall meeting out of concern that it would attract protestors. Herrera Beutler’s office justified the move by saying “that they were concerned that publicizing the event would attract protesters, especially from outside the district.” The Chronicle disregarded that request and published an announcement in that Saturday’s paper anyway.
According to an article in the The Columbian, another local paper, “Herrera Beutler faced a loud and divided crowd in a town hall meeting in May 2011.” The meeting involved hostile questioning on her vote on the Paul Ryan budget plan and her views on the federal debt limit, which led to both applause and boos in the crowd.
Given the current political environment in which voters are anxious to express their concerns to their Republican representatives, it would appear that Herrera-Beutler is trying to avoid facing her constituents while at the same time being able to say that she does, indeed, hold town halls (that no one knows about).
Pamela Bailey, Vancouver
Sunshine Week is celebrated
Happy Sunshine Week!
This week, newspapers across the country will publish stories about the importance of public records and measure how well their local governments allow access to information.
Public records are very serious business for newspapers, because they form the backbone of most newspaper stories. Newspapers are the loudest ones screaming when legislators have the gall to attempt limiting public records. A reporter’s paycheck may depend on how well he or she can dig up stories using public records.
Although governments usually give special treatment to journalists, you, as a citizen, have just as much right to access these records. If you don’t know whether a record is public or not, just ask for it. It is the responsibility of the government to respond with the exact statute if they deny you. This makes it easy for you to look up the law.
When you’re reading this newspaper today, I bet you can find at least one piece of information a reporter got from a government agency.
The term, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), is an acronym commonly used when describing the activity of accessing records from government agencies, but each state has a name for its own public records law. In Washington, it is simply called the Public Records Act.
“Public records” generally are defined as records, regardless of their physical form, made or received in connection with official government business. “Regardless of physical form” means that public records come in various forms, not just paper records. They can also be electronic, such as e-mail or data stored on government computers. They can also be photos, video or audio.
So, the emails of your mayor, a mugshot, video from a police dashcam, audio from a court hearing, the deed on your neighbor’s property and their water usage may all be public records. Using your public records law, you can check out a health care provider. Just go to a medical licensing board and request discipline reports on a doctor.
You can find out if a psychiatrist was ever disciplined for sexual misconduct, substance abuse or has a record of overdrugging children. You can find out if a doctor has done any wrong-side surgery or a dentist has improperly done an extraction which resulted in complications.
If you request enough public records, you will see the free flow of information from government agencies. You get into a rhythm. You ask, you receive, back and forth, on and on and things are sailing along smoothly and then “clunk,” the machine stops! Some attorney, trained to stop the flow and prevent access to records or some recalcitrant government worker or some state statute or agency “policy” slams the door shut! “Request Denied!” But don’t let that stop you!
Just Google the statute they gave you in denying the records. Are they right or not? If not, ask them once again for the record and quote the statute.
There is a wide variation in public record laws, since each state has its own statutes.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill last year allowing criminal records to be sealed if an ex-offender stayed out of trouble for 10 years. New York divorce records are closed, but California’s are open. Florida prohibited autopsy photos, following the NASCAR crash death of Dale Earnhardt. The FBI won’t release a record unless the subject of the records request has filled out a form or if the subject has died. (Plus they take forever in responding!)
Public records are your records. They are public. Governments are simply the custodians of the records.
Good luck on your search of public records!
Happy Sunshine Week!
Kenneth Kramer, Clearwater, Florida
Foundation accepts contributions for Culinary Institute
Thank you for your recent story, “Building a recipe for success: Clark College relaunches culinary program, will open in the fall.” We appreciate the paper’s coverage of our cuisine and professional baking and pastry arts programs, as well as the remodeling of our facility.
The new Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute will be a beautiful addition to the campus and a welcoming place for the community to gather, have conversations and dine together.
There is a part of the article that needs clarification — the mention of fundraising.
To date, the Clark College Foundation has raised $5 million, leaving us with $5.5 million to go. The $10.5 million project will be funded by a combination of fundraising from community partners and financial commitments from Clark College.
We are excited about the possibilities of partnering with individuals, businesses, other foundations, alumni and friends in order to complete this project this year. We welcome anyone who would like to partner with us to contact the Clark College Foundation.
Rhonda Morin, Clark College Foundation, 992-2705