Archive for the ‘Open government’ Category

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. (more…)

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We sent this press release out today, following the receipt of Judge Jeannette Dalton’s decision in our Public Records Act case against the City of Bainbridge Island and three council members. This decision confirms the importance of electing officials who know and respect the laws about good governance and transparency. Get your vote in for the three candidates who will do this: Val Tollefson, Wayne Roth and Roger Townsend.

Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jeannette Dalton has issued a decision in the Public Records Act (PRA) case brought by Althea Paulson and Bob Fortner against the City of Bainbridge Island, and Council members Steven Bonkowski, David Ward and Debbi Lester. Paulson and Fortner filed suit after waiting more than two months for the council members to produce public records from their personal email accounts.

In September, Judge Dalton heard arguments on the defendants’ motion to dismiss all claims in the lawsuit. In a memorandum decision, Judge Dalton refused to dismiss Paulson and Fortner’s demand for production and inspection of the hard drives of the council members’ personal computers.

“[P]ublic officials who conduct business on private computers cannot reasonably expect those records to be classified as private,” ruled Judge Dalton. (more…)

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trick-or-vote-graveyardI’m now sending daily nag-texts to my three 20-something sons to vote and mail their ballots. Like most Americans, they’re not much interested in local elections, even though the government decisions that affect us most directly are made at the local level.

For the past decade, the turnout on Bainbridge in local elections has been in the neighborhood of 40%. By contrast, the island’s turnout for the 2008 presidential election was over 90% in many precincts.

Low turnout can happen when voters don’t think their vote will have much consequence. Several council candidates in the past were unopposed. Christine Rolfes and Bob Scales walked on in 2003. Hilary Franz and Barry Peters were unopposed in 2007.

Most races hand the winner a convincing victory. The closest race in the past two cycles was the 2009 matchup between Bob Scales and Debbie Vancil. Scales took the race with 250 votes, which was a two percentage point advantage.

The Anne Blair/Melanie Keenan race was the most lopsided win in the past two races, with Blair garnering 1389 more votes than Keenan, beating her by 16 percentage points.

Turnout was lower in 2011 than it was in 2009. The numbers vary slightly by Council race, but in 2009, the Kirsten Hytopoulos/Tim Jacobsen race gained the most votes at 9959. In 2011, the most votes were cast in the Barry Peters/Steven Bonkowski matchup, with 9173 votes cast.

The year 2011 was also when the island saw the emergence of a special interest group promoting a slate of candidates. The Ratepayers Alliance rallied voters in Winslow, many of whom were angry over high water rates charged by the City. The Alliance was in litigation with the City and its members had urged that the City divest itself of the water utility.

Sally Adams, Alliance secretary, hosted at least one campaign event (to which I was invited, and still have the invitation) for the slate of Sarah Blossom, Dave Ward and Steven Bonkowski.  According to state campaign finance records, Sally Adams and Dick Allen (president of the Alliance) made contributions to Blossom’s campaign. Allen also contributed to Ward’s campaign. At the time that Allen made his contribution to Ward’s campaign, Ward was a member of the City’s Utility Advisory Committee, which was working on its recommendation to Council on whether to divest the City’s water utility.  (more…)

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IMG_0498Common Sense Bainbridge, Gary Tripp’s new political action committee (T-PAC) has raised $21,050 as of its most recent Public Disclosure Commission filing—more than any council candidate except direct-mail maven Dick Haugan (who has reported $22,955 as of today).

Nearly half of T-PAC’s money comes from one donation. Boyer Towing, a towing and barging company out of Ketchikan, Alaska contributed $10,000, according to the PDC filing.

Kent Halvorsen, a principal of Boyer Towing, has long been a contributor to conservative candidates and causes according to Implu.com, a database of political donors. Implu reports that Halvorsen has supported Alaska Republicans like Don Young, who made the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics’ annual “Most Corrupt” list six times since 2007.

Implu also lists Halvorsen as a donor to the National Rifle Association and that old attack factory, Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth.

Judging from recent Trippwire emails, T-PAC’s intended campaign messaging will be an all-out attack on reality. For those of you who don’t know, the Trippwire is Gary Tripp’s email listerv, which he uses to send frequent email blasts, curated to further his political agenda. He rarely allows anyone to respond or correct the half-truths, distortions and lies that go out with impunity.

Consider these nuggets from the Trippwire just this week: (more…)

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Endorses Tollefson, Roth and Townsend

A new nonprofit is forming on Bainbridge Island this week, and it’s a response to an unprecedented local election. The nonprofit is called Quality Bainbridge, and its immediate goals are to:

  • advocate for good, smart, local government,
  • celebrate widely-shared Bainbridge values, and
  • endorse good candidates and alert the community to a threatening attempt to buy the election.

President John Ellis of Quality Bainbridge said: “Scores of islanders have been liking the island values we celebrated, as a small group of residents, on our Facebook page and website. Now, with our new nonprofit organization this week, we’re independently looking at the field of candidates for City Council this year to find advocates for those shared values. In the past couple of weeks we’ve become alarmed at what appears to be an unprecedented attempt by a PAC to buy the election and control the City Council for years.” (more…)

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From now until Election Day on November 5, Bainbridge Notebook will be devoted to news and opinion about the upcoming Bainbridge Island election, with an emphasis on the races for City Council.

For the first time in memory, there are two explicit slates of candidates running for Council. One slate is supported by anti-government, property rights activist Gary Tripp and his newly formed political action committee with its deep-pocket donors.

The other slate is supported by the 23rd Legislative District Democrats, the Sierra Club, Quality Bainbridge, and countless average citizens. That slate consists of Wayne Roth, Val Tollefson and Roger Townsend.

We’ve had two years of nearly constant turmoil at City Hall as the Council majority and its allies have run out of town a city manager, a police chief, a city attorney and a public works director. Now they’re beating the drum against the planning director (along with a code enforcement officer who left the City months ago). (more…)

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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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