Let the Sun Shine in: Open Government in Seattle

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“Sunshine laws” exist to ensure that the public has access to government information and policymaking in order to provide openness, transparency, and accountability.  These laws cover three major areas, election campaign disclosure, open meetings, and public records, and they exist at the federal, state, and local levels.  Washington State’s sunshine laws are considered to be among the most progressive in the nation. The major State acts are the Campaign Financing Act (RCW 42.17), the Open Public Meetings Act (RCW 42.30), and the Public Records Act (RCW 42.56).  In addition, the City of Seattle has adopted its own regulations, policies, and practices to further the goals of open government.

Campaign Financing
In compliance with the State Campaign Financing Act, Seattle City Charter Article XVIII and Title 2 of the Seattle Municipal Code set out regulations for City of Seattle elections.  The Ethics and Elections Commission promotes fairness and transparency in City elections, which, among other activities, establishes Elections Code Administrative Rules.

Public Records
In addition responding to records requests under the State Public Records Act, the City of Seattle proactively provides access to hundreds of thousands of records via the Web.  The City Clerk’s Office plays a significant role in providing access to City records, not only through online resources, but also through research assistance and management of current and archival City records.

Open Meetings
The City of Seattle provides many opportunities for the public to keep informed of and involved in policymaking. The City Council’s Rules and Procedures affirm the public’s right to attend and comment at Council meetings, and they ensure that agendas,  supporting documents, and draft legislation, are made publicly available in a timely manner.   The City Clerk, as parliamentarian and recordkeeper for the City Council, supports the Council in implementing these rules and procedures.  Check the Council calendar for upcoming meetings and events.

In addition to open meetings, Seattle engages the public in policymaking through venues such as Town Hall forums and citizen representation on boards and commissions.  See the City Clerk’s guide, Be Informed. Be Involved. to learn more about the many ways to participate in Seattle City government.

Sunshine Laws, Past and Present
The history of sunshine laws in Seattle can be traced back over a century.  Expansion and refinement of the laws over time reflected national as well as local interest in governmental accountability and fairness.  To learn more about the history of open government in Seattle, see the Municipal Archives’ digital document library, Seattle’s Open Government Laws, Past and Present.