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In an editorial today, the Seattle Times has lauded the decision by Kitsap Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton in our public records case.

The Times editorial begins with a problem all too familiar to open-government advocates:

“A spate of public-records cases in Washington state are raising a question that shouldn’t have to be asked at all: Should public officials be allowed to evade public-records requests when they use their own cellphones, computers and email accounts? Of course not, but that hasn’t kept them from trying.”

Discussing several public records cases making their way through the Washington courts, the Times said this about Bainbridge Island:

“A private cellphone really is no different from a private email account; and where email is concerned, the courts have been clear. A series of rulings have established that, whether a public official uses a personal mailbox or an official one, the emails still must be disclosed.

“The state Supreme Court laid down that rule in a City of Shoreline case in 2010, and last month a Kitsap County Superior Court judge further clarified the issue. Two Bainbridge Island council members, David Ward and Steven Bonkowski, did public business from their personal computers, and they deleted their emails before two island residents filed public-records requests. Judge Jeanette Dalton ruled the council members were subject to the same records-retention requirements as the city, and she ordered Bainbridge Island to conduct a forensic investigation of the council members’ home computers. Continue Reading »

Last August, we filed a Public Records Act lawsuit against the City of Bainbridge Island and certain individual councilpersons, after learning they had been conducting City business from their personal email accounts, and had failed to produce these records after receiving our public records request.

As we said in our press release at the time, “The last thing we want to do is sue the city….But the way the Public Records Act is written, we have to sue the city in order to require rogue officials to obey the law.”

We have tried to make clear throughout this litigation that our primary concern was not with individuals on the City’s staff, whom we had found to be cooperative and professional. It was unlawful activity by the councilpersons that troubled us, because they have consistently placed themselves above the law and have refused to turn over public records. Council members Dave Ward and Steven Bonkowski have admitted under oath that they deleted emails concerning City business, relying upon their own personal definition of what constitutes a public record, and without seeking advice from the City. In doing so, they ignored guidelines that were provided to them on multiple occasions.

In a 32-page decision issued May 29th, Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jeannette Dalton agreed with us, finding that the councilpersons’ refusal to turn over the records was of “grave concern for the people of Bainbridge Island.” Judge Dalton found that the City failed to do an adequate search for the requested records as required by law, because even after the City knew the council members were conducting City business on their personal accounts, it did not make any effort to search those accounts. She ruled that the City violated the Public Records Act and ordered the City to pay our attorneys fees and sanctions for the violations.

Continue Reading »

Three Council members, Val Tollefson, Wayne Roth and Roger Townsend, sent this letter to the press this morning on City of Bainbridge Island Executive Department letterhead. Although I am not aware of any Council vote taken to approve this letter, it appears to be the City’s official statement, sent out by City press release. It is also posted on the City’s website. 

As many already know, the Kitsap County Superior Court recently issued a ruling in a Public Records Act lawsuit brought last year by two Bainbridge Island citizens against the City and two current members of the City Council. The City has decided to ask the Court of Appeals to review the trial court’s ruling. As the three members of the City Council who were not members of the Council last year, we thought it important to share our justification for supporting this decision.

This case began at a time last year when the emotions of a number of Bainbridge Islanders, both on and off the City Council, were high. To a casual observer it would have been clear that there was little trust and collegiality among some members of the Council, and there were a number of Island interest groups who had little faith in some members of the Council or indeed, in the Council and City government as a whole. Continue Reading »

Here’s the press release we sent out this morning. We received Judge Dalton’s opinion late Friday afternoon. I’ve attached her opinion at the end of the post. The Bainbridge Review’s article is here. The Inside Bainbridge article is here.

Kitsap Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton ruled Friday that the City of Bainbridge Island violated the Public Records Act (PRA) by failing to turn over emails from the personal email accounts of council members David Ward and Steven Bonkowski, after public records requests were made by Islanders Althea Paulson and Robert Fortner. Judge Dalton awarded monetary penalties, attorneys fees and costs to Paulson and Fortner, who filed suit last August. Ward and Bonkowski are also required to turn over their personal computers to the City to be searched for missing emails.

Paulson and Fortner made separate requests beginning in June 2013 for public records relating to the City-run water utility. The City produced responsive records that were stored on the City’s server. In addition, council member Sarah Blossom turned over emails from her personal email account showing that Blossom, Ward, Bonkowski and council member Debbi Lester had been conducting city business from their personal accounts. Continue Reading »

After a week of daunting climate news, here’s your Friday reward: Internet news sensation, Kitsap Report TV, in a no-holds-barred interview with Bainbridge mayor Anne Blair on pressing topics like our city council’s military coup, fast food and twerking. Be sure to look for Councilman Bonkowski’s wink.

IMG_1563The National Climate Assessment issued this week doesn’t have much good news about solutions to our climate problem. The report says natural processes remove about half the carbon dioxide currently being emitted due to human activities. As a result, mitigation efforts that merely keep emissions from increasing are not enough to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but will only limit their rate of increase.

To meet the lower emissions rate used by the report (the “B1 scenario”) in its climate change predictions and assessment–which would still result in significant changes—the world would have to limit global carbon dioxide emissions to 44 billion tons per year for the next 25 years and decline thereafter.

In 2011, global carbon emissions were 34 billion tons per year, and have been rising by .9 billion tons per year for the last decade. We are on track to exceed the 44 billion tons per year within the decade, assuming the rate of emissions does not increase.

Carbon storage in land ecosystems in the U.S. (carbon “sinks”) offset 17% of annual fossil fuel emissions annually, but scientists believe the positive effect of these carbon sinks may not be sustainable.

Between 2008 and 2012, there was a decline in the U.S. in annual emissions of carbon dioxide due to energy use, due to changes in our economy and improvements in government policies and development of alternative energy sources.

In spite of the slight improvements in recent years, the report warns that we need “aggressive and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions by the U.S. and other countries” in order to achieve the B1 scenario that is described in the report.

The report suggests national policy that is urgently needed to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, with a mix of new energy technology for wind, solar and bio-energy, stricter emissions regulation, additional research, and market solutions. The report emphasizes that even if such policies were adopted today the task would be hard, “but delay by any of the major emitters makes meeting any such target even more difficult and may rule out some of the more ambitious goals.”

City, state and regional mitigation actions

The country’s most ambitious state activity is California’s “Global Warming Solutions Act” which sets a state goal of reaching 1990 greenhouse gas emissions rates by 2020. The statute uses a cap and trade mechanism (a cap on emissions and a market-based system of trading emissions credits), as well as a number of regulatory actions.  Continue Reading »

The National Climate Assessment, reported in my last post, highlights regional impacts of climate change, as well as national consequences.

storm11The section that details impacts on the Northwest was written by Northwest scientists, including convening lead authors Philip Mote from Oregon State University and Amy K. Snover from the University of Washington.

Key findings include:

1. Changes in streamflow relating to changes in snow melt have already been observed and will continue, reducing water supply for competing users and causing “far-reaching ecological and socioeconomic consequences.”

2. In coastal zones (such as Bainbridge Island), the effects of sea level rise, erosion, inundation, threats to infrastructure and habitat, and increasing ocean acidity collectively pose a major threat.

3. Increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks, and tree diseases are already causing widespread tree die-off and are “virtually certain” to cause long-term forest landscape transformation by 2040.

4. While technology may be able to adapt some of the changing conditions and consequences to agriculture, there remain “critical concerns for agriculture” in terms of high costs, development of responsive technology and water availability.

Water and flooding

River-related flooding is expected to increase in basins with mixed winter rain and snowmelt runoff and remain largely unchanged in snow dominant basins. Climate models project an increase of up to 20% of extreme daily precipitation (wettest days of the year), and heavy downpours, which in turn increase the risk of flooding.

Decreased summer waterflows in rivers and streams threaten several species of freshwater fish, particularly salmon, steelhead and trout.

Coastal vulnerabilities

storm6Global sea levels have risen about 8 inches since 1880, and are expected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100. Much of the coastline in the Northwest is rising due to tectonic uplift, which currently mitigates some of the impacts of rising sea levels. A major earthquake in the region, expected in the next few hundred years, could immediately reverse the trend and, based on historical evidence, increase relative sea level by 40 inches or more.

Even taking coastal uplift into account, the report says that more than 140,000 acres of coastal land in Washington and Oregon, including parts of Seattle, will be underwater during high tide by the end of the century. Flooding will be exacerbated by storm surges.  Continue Reading »

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