The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to add job protections for certain employees who deal with requests for public records.
The change stems from a whistleblower complaint filed by one records officer and supported by another in Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office earlier this year.
An ethics investigation revealed that Durkan’s text messages for a 10-month period were missing and determined that the mayor’s office had mishandled requests for the messages. The records officers said they were directed to break the state’s public records law in how they responded to requests.
Under Monday’s legislation, records officers in the mayor’s office, legislative department and law department will have “civil service” status. That means the records officers who report to the mayor, council and city attorney will retain their jobs when new politicians are elected and will have the right to appeal personnel actions to Seattle’s Civil Service Commission.
Under civil service rules, employees are hired “based on relative ability, knowledge and skills, without regard for political beliefs or activities.”
Most Seattle employees have civil service status, but certain employees have been exempted over time, including all employees in the mayor’s office and most employees in the legislative department and the law department.
Monday’s legislation will apply to two records officers in the mayor’s office, two in the legislative department and one in the law department.
Council President M. Lorena González worked on the legislation with City Attorney Pete Holmes, the city’s information technology department, the city’s elections commission and records officers.
González said the change is meant to shield records officers from “undue political influence” and to “protect the transparency” of the disclosure process, “especially when requests are directed at elected officials.”
In May, González initially said she and Holmes would work to establish an independent entity within City Hall to handle requests for records from the mayor’s office. Monday’s legislation will keep the records officers for the mayor’s office in that office.