Letters to the Editor

ACLU, not Navy, gets credit for public access

I’m a little puzzled by Josef A. Kunzler’s letter, “Thankful for protection NAS Whidbey provides.” (The Whidbey Examiner, Nov. 8)

He credits the Navy with his ability to get public records. Actually, it was a statewide initiative by a majority of the voters that passed the state Public Disclosure Act. And if you have trouble with recalcitrant politicians providing those records, I seriously doubt that the Navy will help.

I remember a time when I, on behalf of Whidbey Environmental Action Network, did have trouble with resistant politicians, the Island County commissioners.

It was 1995 and the commissioners created a new policy of charging $1 per page for copies of public records to try to prevent us from getting them. Even if the requested documents were on a floppy disk, they attempted to charge $1 per page. So a 350-page document on a floppy would cost $350. Even though state law says that the county could only charge the actual costs involved in making the copies.

Well, who you gonna call when ghostly good old boy politicians try to keep you in the dark? The U.S. Navy? They could bomb the courthouse? Land marines? Establish a chain of command? Buy some really expensive toilet seats? Or something?

Nah. Who you gonna call? The American Civil Liberties Union, those fine folks who have been defending the Bill of Rights for everyone for nearly 100 years. And that’s what we did. ACLU found a volunteer attorney who wrote a sternly worded letter to the Good Ol’ Boys. And the price of getting copies from the county suddenly dropped to 25 cents a page or $5 per floppy disk.

And that’s why it doesn’t cost $1 per page to get public records from Island County.

Now, my point here is not to bash the Navy. There have been wars when the U.S. military did defend freedom and democracy. Also, wars that were for territorial and commercial expansion, and some that no one can figure out why they were fought and people died.

But if you need help defending your rights that doesn’t involve fighting a war, you are better off going to the American Civil Liberties Union.

– Steve Erickson



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