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Archive for the ‘Public Records’ Category

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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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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This morning Bob Fortner and I sent out the following press release:

Bainbridge residents Althea Paulson and Bob Fortner filed a Public Records Act lawsuit in Kitsap County Superior Court today against the City of Bainbridge Island, and city council members Steven Bonkowski, David Ward and Debbi Lester. Bonkowski, Ward and Lester have been named in the suit both personally and in their role as councilpersons.

Paulson and Fortner made separate requests under the state Public Records Act for records about the council’s recent dealings with the city’s utilities. When councilperson Sarah Blossom produced responsive emails from her personal email account, it became apparent that Bonkowski, Ward, Lester and Blossom have been conducting city business from their personal email accounts.

Council members are given a city email address and, by city policy, are directed to use only that account for city business. Unlike Blossom, councilpersons Ward, Bonkowski and Lester have failed to turn their emails over to the city, in violation of city policy, as well as state law. There is no indication that the other three councilpersons, Kirsten Hytopoulos, Bob Scales and Anne Blair, have used their personal accounts for city business.

“The last thing we want to do is sue the city,” said Paulson, a former co-publisher of the Bainbridge Buzz news website, who now blogs about city politics. “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. The city has produced documents from the city’s server, but in the two months since my request, the three council members still haven’t produced their emails.” (more…)

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