Disdainful of transparency all the way, Durkan administration cuts critical public information resource
By Erica C. Barnett
Last summer, the city’s public directory of employees – a vital resource that provided members of the public with access to contact details of city employees as well as information about the Byzantine municipal service bureaucracy – suddenly disappeared of the city’s website. The directory was the only place where members of the public could access contact information for the majority of people who work in the city.
When asked what happened to the directory last summer, Durkan’s administration office raised unspecified technical issues and assured PubliCola he would be back before the end of the year.
“I fully understand that removing this service makes it more difficult to contact individual city staff,” the city’s acting technical director said in a statement released by Durkan’s office last summer. “This was an unforeseen change, so it will take time to scale up and have a project team in place to finalize the specifications and develop the replacement solution. “
This was, supposedly, the plan. Instead, in a decision typical of Durkan’s disregard for transparency and access to public information, the administration quietly decided to kill the directory as it went out. According to a update Posted on the city’s website in mid-December, the city’s human resources office, headed by Bobby Humes, named by Durkan, made a “decision” at one point in late 2021 that “the directory would no longer be maintained ”.
According to Loter, the “decision of the human resources department is not to maintain the directory and to rely on the department’s contact information, which is also posted there as well as on many of the department’s websites.” PubliCola requested a copy of this decision.
The erasure of the city’s public directory is a blow to transparency and access to public information. It is hardly surprising that a mayor infamous for her text messages that disappear would also be responsible for removing this link to basic city government information in its final months, but it’s disheartening nonetheless.
Now, anyone wishing to contact a city employee by email or phone will have to try their luck with a limited number of official custodians or file a request for public disclosure of information, a process that can take months.
We reached out to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office for comment on the previous administration’s decision to do away with the directory.
In the meantime, PubliCola has requested an updated copy of the directory. If the city doesn’t publish it, we will.