Before I sail off into the sunset, I want to share with you a compendium of resources and some wisdom on how to find out what’s going on in Seattle government.
The City Council
The Council’s web site has several important sources of information for keeping track of what is going on:
- The calendar of upcoming meetings.
- The list of committees, with links to meeting agendas (note: the committees will be reshuffled in January).
- Legistar, the Council’s system for tracking legislation (past and present) as it moves through the legislative process. Legistar takes some work and practice to learn, but it gives you access to bills, proposed amendments, the legislative history of a bill, meeting agendas and minutes, and more.
- A web page where you can sign-up to receive email notifications of meeting agendas, and other legislative actions.
- The archive of past and present legislation (note there are separate systems for before and after 2015).
- The Seattle City Charter and Seattle Municipal Code.
- A list of Councilmembers, their staff, contact information, their individual web pages, and signups for their weekly email newsletters.
- The Council Central Staff, with areas of coverage and contact information. Note: this page is currently out of date; hopefully it will be brought up-to-date in 2022.
- The City Clerk. The Clerk is responsible for archiving materials from the City Council and other city departments, and also serves as the parliamentarian for the City Council (and reports to the Council President).
- The City Council’s rules and procedures.
Other important city web sites
- The Hearing Examiner, who hears appeals of administrative decisions by city departments. The Hearing Examiner’s web site allows for looking up pending and past cases and accessing all the relevant filings, though it’s not a terribly intuitive interface and takes some practice to use.
- The City Auditor, who does research on behalf of the City Council and investigates issues with city departments in the Executive and Judicial Branches of city government. You can search through their online archive of reports.
- The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. Its web site contains Seattle election campaign registrations and financial reports going back for many years (as well as the current ones), as well as lobbyist disclosures. It also contains the calendar and agendas for upcoming SEEC meetings, and instructions for how to contact them to submit a complaint about a violation of the Ethics Code for city employees.
- The contracts database, maintained by the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, allows you to search for contracts that the city signs with outside organizations. It’s another very difficult to use interface that takes much practice, but it’s very useful for finding out what a particular consultant is up to.
- The Public Document Request web site, for submitting public document requests of any city department. It requires you to set up an account in advance of submitting your request, but allows for straightforward tracking of requests and for paying fees and retrieving results online.
- The City Budget Office: an archive of past years’ budgets, and the place where the current year’s budget is posted. It’s also where the Mayor’s proposed budget for the following year is published in late September each year.
- Department sites for publishing data and reports: SPD, OPCD (a wealth of demographic data), SDOT, Seattle Public Utilities, SDCI.
- The Seattle Channel: live streaming of City Council meetings and some other press conferences and events; an archive of past City Council meetings.
- The three police accountability bodies: the OPA, the OIG, and the CPC. You can search for reports on the OPA and OIG sites.
- RSS feeds for city department announcements: City Council, City Attorney, SDOT, HSD, SPD, OPCD, SDCI. Expect one for Mayor Harrell once he takes office (Mayor Durkan has one, but it’s specific to her name and won’t carry over).
King County departments shared with Seattle
- King County Elections
- King County Regional Homeless Authority
- Public Health Seattle-King County
- King County property tax parcel viewer: allows you to look up any property in the county and see its ownership, assessed value, sale history, and permit history.
Other useful government web sites
- University of Washington Library. By joining the UW Alumni Association you can get a library card and access to UW Libraries’ collection. It’s a great deal and an invaluable source of information.
- Washington State Legislature: look up state law (aka the RCW), or past and present bills.
- The Washington State Constitution.
- Washington Public Disclosure Commission: overlaps with the SEEC on campaign and lobbyist disclosures, but with statewide data.
- U.S. Census Bureau: a deep resource for demographic information, though it takes some practice to use well.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: another federal site with a treasure trove of helpful data.
- IRS nonprofit search: allows you to look up the registration for any federally-recognized 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) nonprofit, including retrieving their annual Form 990 reports (a nonprofit’s tax return).
Accessing court documents and proceedings is an enormous pain, and is often expensive. There are multiple systems for accessing different state courts that are usually designed for attorneys and not for the general public; they all have their own rules and fee structures, and some give you more access than others. However, there is a free archive of state judicial opinions.
Seattle Municipal Court:
- The Court Portal provides access to calendars and some basic case information.
King County Superior Court: the Court maintains two separate online search systems: KC Script Portal and ECR Online.
- KC Script Portal (free) provides the general public with the ability to search for a case and retrieve basic docket information — but not case documents (you can see that the documents exist, but you can’t download them).
- ECR Online ($) requires setting up an account, but then allows you to look up cases and download case documents.
- The court’s web site.
- Some judges allow for remote telephone or Zoom access to hearings in their courtroom; you will need to contact the judge’s clerk or bailiff to find out if it will be available — or to request it. If you request it, do so a few days in advance so that staff have time to arrange it.
State Court of Appeals: The Washington State Court of Appeals has three divisions; most of Seattle’s cases are in Division I.
- Search for cases here.
- Access published and unpublished opinions here. You can also find here the RSS feeds for appeals court opinions so that you can receive them as they are released, or you can sign up for email notification of new opinions (and other court-related announcements).
- If you need access to case dockets, then you need to use the ACORDS online web app ($), which requires setting up a JIS Link account. Information on how to do this is here. Fair warning, though: ACORDS does not provide public access to many of the briefs and other documents filed in a particular case. But it does provide information on scheduled hearings and other case deadlines.
- Some case briefs can be found here, though there is often a substantial delay in posting them.
- TVW streams video of appeals court oral arguments.
Washington State Supreme Court:
- The Court’s calendar is here.
- The list of accepted cases is here.
- The currently pending petitions for review (i.e. asking the Court to take the case) are here.
- Briefs filed in cases are here (again, expect a delay in posting).
- Opinions issued by the Court are here. The Court regularly releases its opinions on Thursday mornings, but late Wednesday afternoon will post a list of the next morning’s opinions to be released here.
- TVW streams Supreme Court hearings live, and maintains an archive of past oral arguments before the Court.
The local federal trial court is the U.S. District Court for Western Washington. Appeals from that court go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and from there to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- All federal courts use the same electronic document system, called PACER. It requires you to set up an account, and will charge a per-page fee for access to records, but the same account will enable access to records from all federal courts.
- The Free Law Project runs a service called RECAP to provide free access to PACER records. RECAP has a free browser plug-in that will automatically upload to RECAP’s archive any documents that you download from PACER, and will tell you if the document that you are about to pay to download from PACER is available for free in the RECAP archive (because someone else has already uploaded it). RECAP will also let you register for notifications about new filings in a specific case. It is an incredible, free resource that I encourage you to use and support.
U.S. District Court for Western Washington:
- The court’s web site.
- The court calendar.
- This page lists the hearings scheduled that are providing call-in numbers for the public to listen to the case (not all cases provide telephone access).
- RSS feed for case activity (warning: this can generate hundreds of entries per day).
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals:
- The court’s web site.
- The court’s calendar.
- Archive of opinions issued by the court.
- RSS feeds for the court (opinions, cases of interest, announcements).
- Live streaming of oral arguments, and a video archive of previous oral arguments.
Thanks for reading! I hope you find this post helpful.
Thank you for all you have done! I will very much miss your posts and your insights. Happy New Year and new adventures
Incredibly useful list; thank you.
One more resource that might be useful for people: https://www.muckrock.com/ makes filing FOIA requests very easy. They take a while but if you’re pursuing information that isn’t otherwise available an FOIA request may be the only solution.
Thanks. I included a pointer to the city’s Public Document Request Center, which isn’t much harder to use than MuckRock and better integrated into the city’s public disclosure processes.
“I hope you find this post helpful.”
Very! Thank you.
Today I learned — thanks! Really appreciate everything you’ve done.
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