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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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