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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Bonkowski’

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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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.

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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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After a week of daunting climate news, here’s your Friday reward: Internet news sensation, Kitsap Report TV, in a no-holds-barred interview with Bainbridge mayor Anne Blair on pressing topics like our city council’s military coup, fast food and twerking. Be sure to look for Councilman Bonkowski’s wink.

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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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