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Only answer to leaks at City Hall: Invest in shredders

Maybe the “suspicious” janitor did it. Or it was someone “dumpster diving” behind City Hall.

Whatever the case, Mayor Ken Estes says he’s not sure who’s been leaking documents to The Vidette and others in the public. But he’s ordered the city to invest in more shredders.

With the assistance of City Administrator Kristy Powell, Estes personally led an investigation into employees, who may be leaking what he calls “confidential information” to The Vidette and the public at large.

Estes completed his report on June 10 and The Vidette received a copy, thanks to the state Public Records Act. In conclusion, he found no clear-cut suspects and he threatened to take some kind of unspecific action against any City Council member or city employee who he finds leaking information to the press or anyone else.

“I will take immediate remedial action on the next occurrence — be it a council person who defies this trust, an administrator or department head who violates their duty or any employee, who does not accept this responsibility. Everyone now knows their duty and responsibility — or should have after this letter. Every employee is expected to do an hour’s work for an hour’s pay. In this administration, there is no room for lying, cheating, theft or gossip. The citizens of Montesano expect no less.”

A few city employees suggested that a cleaning person was “suspicious,” which was mentioned in a version of the report dated June 7 and sent to City Councilman Rich Klinger and council candidate Tyler Trimble. Estes revised the report on June 10 to remove the “suspicious” person reference because the cleaning company said the employee had been let go.

“However, the basket containing the drafts would have went out to the dumpster by whomever was doing the cleaning,” Estes wrote in an email to Klinger and Trimble. “I have still not ruled out dumpster diving!”

Estes says with all of the recent investigations at City Hall, a bit of paranoia has set in.

“For the past six months, Kristy and I have honestly believed we were being listened to or someone had been reading material on her desk, as information we had discussed in private or that were in draft written reports in her office, were coming back to us via the rumor mill. We found this stopped only when we began using my office as the ‘cone of silence.’”

Estes says too many documents have been leaked out of City Hall in recent months. What prompted the investigation, however, were letters that appeared to have been faxed to The Vidette from City Hall. The letters ordered several Public Works employees to appear before an investigator to respond to potential charges of misusing city computers to access pornographic Internet sites.

Estes interviewed city employees and also viewed police video pointing at the entrances and on the exterior of City Hall to see which employees and members of the public are entering City Hall at the time the fax was sent to The Vidette.

Estes grilled the six employees that worked in City Hall, on if they faxed anything to The Vidette on May 28. There were no records to show the types of questions he asked them.

“All denied sending or seeing anyone,” Estes wrote. “I do not anticipate any other change in their answers.”

Estes looked at the time stamp on one of the faxes sent to The Vidette “and I found that the time stamp on a fax is put on by the machine that received the fax, not the sending machine, and time delays on receiving faxes can be in seconds to hours.”

Estes found that although the faxes were sent on a Tuesday, the documents were actually created on the Friday before and the letters, all signed by Powell, were “put into the waste basket as trash. They would have been taken out to the city dumpster during the weekend cleaning service.”

Estes had said before the investigation had finished the documents had just disappeared, not knowing they were thrown away.

Estes says he viewed police video outside City Hall, but they aren’t aimed at the dumpster “and I could not see anything that looked like anyone in the camera view dumpster diving.”

Using existing video surveillance, Estes detailed the comings and goings of specific city employees, what they were doing, who they were talking to.

“None of the three clerks folding water bills noticed Ms. Powell going to the copy/fax machine which was right next to them during the time they were doing water bills,” Estes writes, affirming that employees just come and go and no one really pays much attention.

Estes writes, “Conclusion: Could have been removed from the dumpster. Could have been sent hours before it was received at The Vidette. Could have been done by someone that did not attract attention anytime during the day. Without confession or witnesses, I am not able to determine who may have done this or for what purpose. In this incident, I believe someone was either trying to embarrass the city administrator, or a council candidate or maybe both.”

Mayor Estes says he “also approved shredders at employee desks to shred sensitive material — such as papers with names, addresses or personal ID or draft letters.”

The use of shredders may prove to be an issue if city employees are inadvertently destroying public records. The records turned over to The Vidette show that every employee in the city of Montesano signed a document confirming that they received the mayor’s June 4 “Breach of Faith and Duty” memo. The mayor said no one refused to sign it.

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