State Attorney General-elect Rob McKenna announced last night he'll create a new position in his office to ensure government agencies comply with requests for public records. McKenna, who moderated a...

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State Attorney General-elect Rob McKenna announced last night he’ll create a new position in his office to ensure government agencies comply with requests for public records.

McKenna, who moderated a debate at Seattle’s Washington Athletic Club on public-disclosure law, said he planned to name Olympia attorney Greg Overstreet as the new assistant attorney general.

Overstreet, who often represents people thwarted in their attempts to obtain public records, also is the editor in chief of a soon-to-be-published book commissioned by the Washington State Bar Association. The book is intended as a guide for citizens, lawyers and judges dealing with public-disclosure and open-meetings laws.

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“Greg will be helping bridge the chasm between government agencies trying to deal with public disclosures without going broke, and requestors who feel frustrated with what they believe is a lack of responsiveness” from government officials, McKenna said after the panel discussion.

Though Overstreet’s appointment hasn’t been publicly announced, McKenna said the new position will be made official after he is sworn in as attorney general next week.

Panelists, including Overstreet, debated the implications of a May 2004 state Supreme Court ruling on the state’s Public Disclosure Act (PDA). The event was organized by the Puget Sound Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, a group of conservatives and libertarians who, according to its national Web site, believe the judiciary exists to say what the law is, not what it should be.

The volume of public-disclosure requests has exploded in recent years. In 2003, the Attorney General’s Office alone released almost 300,000 pages of documents under the PDA, The Seattle Times reported in May.

McKenna’s predecessor, governor-elect Christine Gregoire, suffered political grief during her 12 years as attorney general over her office’s failure to comply with the state’s public-disclosure laws. Under her watch, the state paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and fees, and the courts have reprimanded Gregoire when her office, or other state agencies represented by her lawyers, failed to turn over public records.

Public-disclosure compliance was one of McKenna’s top three campaign issues. “Greg is going to be my PDA evangelist,” McKenna told the room full of lawyers and judges last night. Overstreet’s job “is not just to walk around with a heavy stick” to ensure compliance — he will also “be a coach, a teacher, a motivator … who will help state government comply with the PDA, both the letter and spirit of the law.”

Overstreet, a 37-year-old father of two, will be a “troubleshooter” and “ombudsman” who will help people requesting records, as well as those legally required to provide them, he said.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders, who attended the debate, said McKenna’s announcement reflected a belief in the need for transparent government.

“I think people are becoming more and more aware of their rights and are demanding more openness in government,” Sanders said.

McKenna’s appointment of Overstreet “and the spirit in which he is doing it is to encourage governmental compliance with the PDA — not to make everyone go to court to get what they’re entitled to,” Sanders said.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com