Disdainful of Transparency to the End, Durkan Administration Deletes Critical Public Information Resource

By Erica C. Barnett

Last summer, the city’s public-facing employee directory—a vital resource that enabled members of the public to access contact information for city employees as well as information about city departments’ Byzantine bureaucracy—vanished suddenly from 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 at the city.

Asked what happened to the directory last summer, the Durkan Administration office cited unspecified technical issues and assured PubliCola that it would be back before the end of the year.

“I completely understand that the removal of this service makes it more difficult to contact individual staff in the City,” the city’s interim Chief Technology Officer said in a statement released by Durkan’s office last summer. “This was an unplanned change so it will take time for us to ramp up and staff a project team to finalize the specifications and develop the replacement solution.”

That, supposedly, was the plan. Instead, in a decision typical of Durkan’s disdain for transparency and access to public information, the administration quietly decided to kill the directory on its way out the door. According to an update posted on the city’s website in mid-December, the city’s Office of Human Resources, headed by Durkan appointee Bobby Humes, issued a “decision” at some point late in 2021 that “the directory would no longer be maintained.”

According to Loter, the HR department’s “decision is to not maintain the directory and to rely on departmental contact information, which is also posted at that location as well as on many departmental web sites.” PubliCola has requested a copy of this decision.

The erasure of the public-facing city directory is a blow to transparency and access to public information. It’s hardly surprising that a mayor infamous for her disappearing text messages would also be responsible for eliminating this link to basic information about city government in her final months, but it’s disheartening nonetheless.

From now on, anyone who wants to contact a city employee by email or phone will have to take their chances on a limited number of official gatekeepers or file a public disclosure request for the information—a process that can take months.

We’ve reached out to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office for comment on the previous administration’s decision to disappear the directory.

In the meantime, PubliCola has requested a current copy of the directory. If the city won’t post it, we will.

5 thoughts on “Disdainful of Transparency to the End, Durkan Administration Deletes Critical Public Information Resource”

  1. The problem is that the directory was often not accurate, and a pain to keep up-to-date. There is actually a new staff directory available. It’s just inward-facing because it’s tied up with SharePoint and other tech products now being used by staff. The directory itself utilizes something called “Hyperfish” which integrates with Office365.

    I couldn’t tell you if it’s easy to punch some sort of public-facing UI through to that or not… but seems like a decent place for you to start. The advantage internally is that it is ALWAYS correct now, and can be used to track folks on the Org chart or where their office is (normally) located. It updates automatically when their profile is moved or updated.

    1. MT-J: Your explanation makes good sense. However, it is not the explanation which was reportedly given by the City. They apparently claimed that the application was no longer supported. Instead, it appears they were just too lazy to maintain it in two different versions until they could work up a public-facing solution. In which case they are still liars. ….which is what you would expect from people who get to keep their jobs no matter how badly they screw up. Or maybe they were ordered to take it down, which is even worse. There are other cities which did take down their employee directories and they are still offline years later.

  2. The excuses given by the IT Department are outright lies. Your readers who are familiar with IT or the software industry know that applications don’t magically and instantly become unsupportable without any prior notice. Pure BS of course. Your right to obtain the entire City Employee Directory is absolute, and if they don’t provide it you can sue them and settle for some pretty good money. There are several attorney’s in Washington State that quit their practices and now all they do is make public records requests between vacations in warm places. Their requests are deliberately difficult to fully-comply with. Then, when they don’t get all the requested info, they file a lawsuit and settle for huge sums. Anyone can begin research on this by searching for Municipal Research Services Center (MRSC), then “Public Records Requests”.

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