Position assists citizens, public agencies and elected officials with Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act compliance
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today he has selected Assistant Attorney General Morgan Damerow as the Attorney General’s Office Open Government Ombuds.
State open government laws exist to promote democracy and ensure that the government is transparent to the individuals it serves. To hold government accountable, the public must be able to stay informed of their government’s activities and how it is exercising the powers they have given to it.
“Open government is vital to a free and informed democracy,” Ferguson said. “The Attorney General’s Office created the Ombuds position to help the public and elected officials navigate complex systems for public records. Morgan has played a critical role in this open government work for years. He will continue to help Washingtonians better understand how their governments operate.”
For the previous two years, a team of Assistant Attorneys General performed the Ombuds’ duties. That team included Morgan Damerow and one of the Deputy Attorneys General who serves on the office’s Core Leadership Team.
During this period, the Attorney General’s Office:
- Led more than a dozen Open Public Meetings Act trainings across the state with more than 1,000 individuals attending — primarily elected officials;
- Conducted 263 public records trainings — for example, “Public Records Act University” and “Public Records Act Boot Camp” — across the state and to more than 15,600 attendees;
- Answered more than 200 queries from the public regarding open meetings and public records;
- Assisted with more than 800 requests from local governments for public records and meetings assistance; and
- Public Records and Open Public Meetings, the Open Government Resource Manual and other training materials.
The Ombuds can provide guidance to the public and elected officials regarding open meetings and public records. You can contact the Ombuds by email at AGOOmbuds@atg.wa.gov or by phone at (360) 570-3418.
Attorney General Ferguson’s Open Government Reforms
In 2013, Attorney General Ferguson restored the Open Government Ombuds to a full-time position. The position was cut to half-time during the McKenna administration.
In 2014, Ferguson proposed and helped pass legislation requiring that all public officials receive regular training on Washington’s open government laws.
In 2015, Ferguson filed a 13-page amicus brief in the Nissen case asserting that “records contained on an official’s personal device are public records under the [Public Records Act] if they relate to the conduct or performance of government and were prepared, owned, used, or retained for the purpose of performing the official’s duties. Public employees do not have a right to keep such public records private and have an obligation to provide such records to their relevant government agencies.” The State Supreme Court ultimately agreed.
In 2016, Ferguson proposed and helped pass legislation increasing the personal penalty for violations of Washington state’s Open Public Meetings Act by 500% and enacting a new penalty for repeat violations.
In 2017, Ferguson supported legislation to establish, and subsequently developed, a Local Government Public Records Consultation Program to assist local governments with their obligations under the Public Records Act so that the public is able to timely access their records.
In 2018, Ferguson filed a 14-page amicus brief arguing that legislators are subject to the State’s Public Records Act. The Court ultimately agreed.
Ombuds history in the Attorney General’s Office
Washington state’s open government laws exist to promote democracy and open up government for all who live here. To hold government accountable, the public must be able to stay informed of their government’s activities. Not only do individuals have a right to know how their government is spending tax dollars and exercising its powers, the public has a need to know.
Prior to the creation of the Ombuds position, Washingtonians often had nowhere to turn for information about the Open Public Meetings Act or Public Records Act. The Attorney General’s Office created the Open Government Ombuds position in 2005 to encourage greater access to government information, answer questions from the public, media and government staff and assist in resolving disputes.
Ferguson’s first Ombuds, Nancy Krier, retired in June 2020, after seven years of service. Damerow served with her as the Assistant Attorney General for Local Government Public Records Consultation and as one of several assistant attorneys general sharing the Ombuds work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What the Ombuds does
Damerow will assist citizens, public agencies and elected officials with Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act compliance. The work of the Ombuds includes:
- Answering questions about the Open Public Meetings Act.
- Providing Open Public Meetings Act training to newly elected officials.
- Answering inquiries from individuals on how agencies should comply with the Public Records Ac.
- Providing guidance to state and local agencies on their approach to public records requests.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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