There appears to be at times a chasm between how the Washington Legislature and the Washington courts interpret the scope of the Public Records Act (“PRA”).
In my previous post, I reviewed a recent Washington State Court of Appeals decision regarding how the courts evaluate whether an organization is a functional equivalent of a government agency for purposes of the PRA. In that case a private group of citizens wanted to obtain records about the health and well-being of the elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. The management of the zoo and the property of the zoo was contracted to a private group called the Woodland Park Zoo Society for a period of 20 years. Since the government funded the Zoo still and had minimal control over the operations, the Washington Court of Appeals addressed the question of whether the Zoo under private direction is the functional equivalent to a government agency.
The functional equivalent test is used to determine if the PRA applies or not “[b]ecause the Legislature did not clearly intend to include or exclude hybrid agencies from the [PRA] and no Washington case law speaks to the issue.”1
The problem, as I see it, is the rigid factors of the functional equivalent test do not seem to coincide with the broad intent of the PRA to promote government accountability.2 Let me explain what I mean by that.
Judicial application of the Telford factors is more narrow and rigid, rather than broad and liberally construed. On the surface, this does not seem to stem from the four Telford factors themselves, but how the courts have chosen to narrowly apply them.
I think the Telford factors are a reasonable way of judging whether the PRA should apply to a quasi-governmental organization, as long as the analysis of the factors is based upon the Washington Legislature’s intent that the PRA should be broadly construed. The current analysis does not seem to be centered on the intent the PRA should be broadly construed.