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Archive for July, 2013

Inflammatory emails released by the city pursuant to a Public Records Act request reveal behind-the-scenes strategizing and advocacy among some Utility Advisory Committee (UAC) members, frequent emails about city business from UAC Chair Arlene Buetow to certain council members’ personal email addresses, testy exchanges between Buetow and City Manager Doug Schulze, and scorching criticisms by Buetow of city staff, UAC colleagues and citizens with whom she did not agree.

Buetow assumed the chairmanship of the UAC in March of 2012 and is now running for Bainbridge city council.

Under her leadership, the UAC’s mission has expanded well beyond the scope of the city’s UAC ordinance. She regularly emailed council persons Sarah Blossom, Steven Bonkowski, David Ward and/or Debbi Lester at their personal email addresses, with extensive comments on utility issues. Those four council persons often vote as a bloc on a variety of contested issues. When they were running for council, Ward, Blossom and Bonkowski were critical of the city’s management of utilities. Their candidacies were supported by the Ratepayers Alliance, a group that sued the city in 2009 over utility issues. Sally Adams, secretary of the Ratepayers Alliance, was occasionally included as a recipient of Buetow emails.

Except for routine matters like scheduling and a thank-you note to Anne Blair, Ms. Buetow did not include council persons Bob Scales, Kirsten Hytopoulos or Anne Blair in the emails produced to me.  (more…)

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On June 5, after an extended break from blogging, I attended a city council meeting to hear discussion about a proposed agreement with Kitsap Public Utility District to manage the city’s water utility. Along with others in council chambers, I watched in disbelief as council member Steven Bonkowski jettisoned the agenda item we’d come to hear and instead made his own presentation about the utility. Although City Manager Doug Schulze was scheduled to discuss the contract, Bonkowski would not allow him to speak to the issues or defend himself from critical remarks Bonkowski made about his work.

Because the unorthodox maneuvering seemed orchestrated with several council colleagues ahead of time, I was curious about the preparation that had gone into Mr. Bonkowski’s presentation. I was particularly interested in the input he had received from the city’s Utility Advisory Committee (UAC). I went to the city’s website to look at UAC minutes, and learned that none had been submitted since October of 2012. As a result, I made requests under the state’s Public Records Act for documents relating to the city’s utilities and the UAC. As the city began producing installments of responsive records, I realized some council persons were receiving a lot (so far, over a hundred) of emails about city business at their private email addresses. I also saw that UAC Chair Arlene Buetow was the author of many of those off-the-grid emails.

I wrote in a previous post about the records I’d received to that point. I’ve also written a piece for Inside Bainbridge, which I’ve posted on Bainbridge Notebook as well. Last week, I posted an article about advice concerning the state Open Public Meetings Act, given at the July 24 council meeting by Interim city attorney Jim Haney.

Contrary to accusations by Buetow supporters, I did not make these records requests to dig up unflattering information on Arlene Buetow, who is currently a Central Ward candidate for city council.

Unfortunately, that is what I found.

Reading these emails has made me heart sick. They reflect a persistent disrespect and hostility toward city staff, citizen volunteers, council persons, the city, the democratic process and even, horrifyingly, the recently deceased.

Some emails reveal violations of city policy and ordinances, if not state law. Others indicate a practice by some of our leaders of communicating privately on important city issues, cutting out the public, and council persons or committee members with whom they do not agree. Most land in a gray area—offensive but not necessarily unethical or illegal. (more…)

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Responding to recent council attention on whether the state’s open government laws apply to private email activity by council as well as to the actions of members of city committees and commissions, Interim city attorney Jim Haney made a presentation last night to the full council on the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

Haney has said he will talk about the Public Records Act (PRA) at a meeting at the end of August. The OPMA and the PRA are separate, but related, state statutes. The OPMA requires that government business be conducted in public, and sets forth standards and requirements for public meetings, as well as fines for officials who do not comply.

The PRA provides that most records created or used in the conduct of government are public records and must be produced to any member of the public who asks.

In recent weeks, several members of the public–including me–have made requests under the PRA for public documents, which perhaps has drawn attention to some questionable open government practices by city officials and committee members.

Utility Advisory Committee chair Arlene Buetow, for example, has taken the position the the UAC is not subject to the OPMA. In an email to council member Sarah Blossom dated May 22, 2013, Buetow wrote, “The UAC was previously told we were not subject to the open public meeting act based on the following logic”, and attached a 1991 opinion from the Washington Attorney General’s office. According to Attorney General Open Government Ombudsman Tim Ford, the courts have expanded the reach of the OPMA in the twenty years since that opinion was issued. (more…)

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The following article of mine was published by Inside Bainbridge on July 18, 2013. I am re-publishing it here to have it archived on my blog.

Documents released by the city pursuant to a public records request reveal that Arlene Buetow, Central Ward City Council candidate, lobbied four members of the Council at their private e-mail addresses on behalf of her homeowners’ association. Shortly after she sent three e-mails to the four requesting an exemption from the city’s business licensing requirements, Councilmember Dave Ward made a motion to do just that at a regularly scheduled council meeting.

On April 14, Buetow sent an e-mail to the personal e-mail addresses of Councilmembers Steven Bonkowski, Sarah Blossom, Debbi Lester, and Ward—who constitute a quorum of the Council—attaching a memo explaining her objections to a recently adopted ordinance that included homeowners’ associations among those entities that must obtain a business license. Buetow, who identified herself as president of the Tiffany Meadows Homeowners’ Association, said the license requirement subjected homeowners’ associations (HOAs) to “superfluous and unnecessary staff review.” She argued that the Council never meant to include HOAs in its ordinance.

On April 15, she sent another message to the four Councilmembers at their personal e-mails, writing, “Dave Ward asked me to provide details on the timing of this Ordinance through Council and how that relates to the Notice being sent out to the ‘affected parties.’” She attached portions of previous Council minutes at which the licensing provisions were considered and adopted.

Although I submitted a Public Records Act request for Councilmembers’ e-mail records, as of July 17 I had received no records showing how Ward communicated his request to Buetow. In fact, I have not received any e-mails from Bonkowski, Lester, or Ward on the topic of the HOA business licensing provision. (more…)

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Inside Bainbridge has published an article I wrote about emails suggesting that four council persons may have conducted city business from their home computers, without complying with state law and city policy.

Read it here:

Did City Councilmembers Violate State Law as Well as City Policy?

 

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