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Archive for June, 2014

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. (more…)

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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.

(more…)

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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. (more…)

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