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Montesano hunting for employee leaking information out of City Hall

MONTESANO — Montesano Mayor Ken Estes is on a hunt for one or more city employees, who may be leaking what he calls “confidential information” to The Vidette and the public at large. Estes said he is personally leading the investigation into who may be leaking information.

“Somebody is in breach of their duties as an employee,” Estes told The Vidette. “It needs to stop. This is not the way to get information out to the public. We need to kill the rumor mill. It’s just gotten out of control.”

The mayor’s investigation was expected to be concluded on Friday. The Vidette has a public records request to gain access to his findings.

On Tuesday, June 4, Estes sent a letter to all city employees and City Council members.

“All city employees and council are municipal officers,” Estes writes. “During the past several months, a great deal of information has been provided to the press and made available to others through suspect means. This information is often of a sensitive nature dealing with investigations. Whomever has been leaking information is committing a breach of faith and duty. If I can determine the identity, those individuals will be subject to review for possible discipline.”

Estes said last week he had interviewed several employees and had no clear suspects.

This is just the latest incident involving Estes and the city employees, which has involved several harassment investigations and employees out on administrative leave, including Public Works Lead Russ Burke, who has been on leave for a few months now. There are allegations that City Administrator Kristy Powell sexually harassed her employees, still under investigation. There are allegations that Public Works crew members have been spending their time on city computers watching pornography, which is still under investigation. And now this latest investigation into a mole at City Hall. The last two council meetings have had about 150 people at them.

Estes says he’s very concerned that a number of letters appeared to have been faxed to The Vidette from City Hall, which ordered several Public Works employees to appear before an investigator to respond to potential charges of misusing city computers to access pornographic Internet sites.

Among the letters sent to The Vidette is one addressed to former Public Works summer employee Tyler Trimble, now a candidate for city council. The letter was signed by City Administrator Kristy Powell. However, Estes and Powell both say that letter was never actually sent to Trimble.

Estes says that the city had a change of heart and wanted to make sure the letter clearly made sure that Trimble was not being accused of any charges. Instead, a different letter was sent and Trimble was asked to come in for an interview as a witness, instead. He was never accused of any wrongdoing, Estes stresses.

Trimble says he’s troubled on two fronts. First, Trimble says, he doesn’t understand why the first letter was written at all. Second, he says he is frustrated that the letter the city meant to throw away got out to the public.

Estes says he met with Trimble and agreed to ask city employees what happened.

Estes says what’s even more concerning is that the original letters signed by Powell, including the one with errors sent to Trimble, have simply disappeared.

“We have no idea where those letters are,” Estes said. “Someone took them. And that’s wrong.”

Estes said that information has also been leaked to state auditors on the investigation involving Burke and his alleged theft of city-owned paint. Burke, who denies any wrongdoing, remains on administrative leave for that issue with an internal city investigation still ongoing, although a police investigation has finished.

Estes said he was working on the city’s newsletter when a draft copy he had written was leaked to city employees. One of those employees contacted attorney Art Blauvelt, Estes says, and Blauvelt then contacted the mayor and demanded part of the newsletter be edited to remove Blauvelt’s client.

Blauvelt declined to comment on the situation.

Other memos and information have also been leaked to the press and public before they were ready to go public, Estes said.

“These incidents are unacceptable,” Estes writes to all city employees. “Any action of this type is a violation of state law, according to the city attorney.”

Estes cites the Revised Code of Washington 42.23.070, which states “no municipal officer (city employee or elected official) may disclose confidential information gained by reason of the officer’s position, nor may the officer otherwise use such information for his or her benefit.”

“Each of us has access and knowledge that other citizens might not have at the particular moment,” Estes writes. “It is a very clear responsibility that must not be violated. We all need to work together to end this. Remember, it is only under my authority that information is released.”

Estes says he’s not spending any of the city’s money on his investigation.

He’s doing it on his time and no special investigators are being called in.

Although City Hall is equipped with cameras, Estes notes the cameras are pointing out at the public and not at city workers.