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.