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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Fortner’

Last week, Council member Steven Bonkowski sent a letter to the press, trying to rehabilitate his reputation after his unlawful and costly violations of the Public Records Act. We sent the letter below to the Bainbridge City Council, the City Manager and the City Attorney. 

Dear Council, Mr. Schulze, and Ms. Marshall:

We read Steven Bonkowski’s letter to Inside Bainbridge this week, in which he attempts to re-litigate arguments he lost in court. His false statements are so significant that we think it’s important to correct them in writing. We also want to express our alarm that as a sitting member of the Bainbridge City Council, Mr. Bonkowski continues to substitute his own incorrect interpretation of the law for the judgment of two courts, suggesting that he is within his rights to continue the unlawful behavior that has cost the city so much money.

The following are false statements by Mr. Bonkowski:

Bonkowski: “I want the community to know that I did not conduct city business from my private email account, and I did turn over my emails to the city in a timely manner for the public records request.”

The facts: Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton held that the documents we sought were “related to the financial information that Mr. Bonkowski discussed at the June 5, 2013 meeting, and thus do come within the realm of ‘public records.’” In fact, when Judge Dalton discussed Mr. Bonkowski’s flawed reasoning in determining what constitutes a public record, she wrote the criticism that has been so often repeated in the press: “The Council members knew well what the Governance Manual requires, and any hesitation by them in turning over such emails is a grave concern for the people of Bainbridge Island.”

Moreover, Mr. Bonkowski did not turn over his emails in a timely manner, because, as Judge Dalton found, he “admitted to deleting records that were responsive to the PRA requests.”

The Court of Appeals supported Judge Dalton’s positions, writing that Bonkowski and Ward “undisputedly violated the Governance Manual by using their personal accounts for city business, by failing to forward emails received on their personal accounts to City servers, and by deleting emails which constituted public records, thus making it impossible for the City to adequately respond to Paulson and Fortner’s PRA requests.” (more…)

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Bainbridge City Council member and Deputy Mayor Val Tollefson wrote a letter to the editor, published on Inside Bainbridge yesterday, expressing his views on our lawsuit and the core importance of open government. It’s a welcome public statement from someone who was not on the Council when we filed the suit. As one of the plaintiffs, I can confirm his statement that “this suit could have been settled much earlier and cheaper but for the insistence but for the insistence by the involved Councilmembers that their Constitutional right to privacy was paramount to their obligation to the City.” I also agree with the the other views he expressed in this letter, particularly the importance of transparency in government.

Bainbridge Island recently settled a lawsuit brought by two of our citizens claiming that the City violated the Washington Public Records Act. The suit involved delays and ultimately failure of two members of the Council to produce email messages that they had received concerning City business on their personal email accounts. This suit was a very expensive lesson. The money spent should have been used for a constructive purpose for our City. Since the taxpayers won’t see any tangible benefit from these tax dollars, they are at least entitled to some comment. So here goes:

  1. The use of personal email accounts for City business was against City policy. This suit demonstrated clearly the problems that can result, and the City has tightened procedures to ensure that everyone doing business on behalf of the City has access to and knows they must use a City email account.
  2. This suit could have been settled much earlier and cheaper but for the insistence by the involved Councilmembers that their Constitutional right to privacy was paramount to their obligation to the City. I will ask the Council to take steps to ensure that Councilmembers agree that service to the City requires a reasonable limitation on that claim to privacy.
  3. Compliance with the Public Records Act and the Open Meetings Act are at the core of the City’s obligation to provide good, transparent service to the community. The citizens who brought this recent lawsuit performed an invaluable service to the community at great personal expense. Bob Fortner and Althea Paulson should be thanked for insisting that the City be held to account.

—Val Tollefson City Council, North Ward

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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.

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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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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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By Bob Fortner

Last year’s Council “fixed” the water utility problems…high rates were reduced to those proposed by the KPUD, overhead was reduced and a trial period was established. The Utility Advisory Committee would review operational data quarterly and report to Council in June 2013.

Without waiting for or seeking operating data, Council members Bonkowski, Ward and Blossom with the support of Mayor Lester are pursuing early re-engagement with KPUD regarding management or ownership of the City’s Water Utility. Using 5 years of financial reports, Bonkowski alludes to data on the other city utilities compared with water to support his contention that all is not right with utility management and therefore the early re-engagement is justified.

Perhaps in his relative newness here, he fails to factor in that the previous Finance Director was dismissed in August of 2010 after 6 years of fiscal obfuscation which contributed to our near bankruptcy. Bonkowski may have found what he believes are discrepancies or a “straw man” to justify divestiture. Basing the reengagement decision on an analysis of those records, without a previous examination of current data, seems inconsistent with his experience in the business world. (more…)

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