Public records during COVID-19
COVID-19 has changed so much about the way we work, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that we are stewards of the public’s records. As such, we must maintain both good records management practices and provide timely responses to requests for public records, whether those come from the public directly, or through a public records officer (PRO) or coordinator. King County’s Executive Branch has received over 100 public records requests specific to COVID-19. The PROs coordinating these requests are working to collect responsive records as efficiently as possible while trying to minimize disruptions to the important work that is being done under uncommon conditions.
One such condition is that many County employees are telecommuting, and in some cases using their own personal equipment to perform their job duties. It’s important to remember that every record you create, receive, or use to conduct County business is subject to the Public Records Act (RCW 42.56), which ensures transparency in government through broad disclosure of public records. The definition of a record is all encompassing, including but not limited to, text messages, emails, photos, notes, files, word documents, etc. Records subject to disclosure include those created in the conduct of County business within the scope of your employment, whether created on personal devices (e.g., phones, tablets, computers, etc.) and/or in personal accounts (e.g., email, social media, etc.).
Wherever possible, you are encouraged to create and retain records within the County’s systems (as accessed through Office 365 or VPN) and not locally on personal devices or through personal accounts. Please reach out to your department’s PRO immediately if you receive a public records request, and please be as responsive as possible to your PROs if they reach out to you for records.