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Let’s put the ‘public’ back in public records

There are two ways for a local government to react to a public records request. The first is to acknowledge the request, work with the respondent, ask questions to clarify the records sought and then to set a firm date for when the records will be turned over.

The second way is to delay, delay, delay and, sometimes, just deny or hold back records, maybe, even forcing the respondent to go to court to get the records.

Art Blauvelt is an expert on the way every attorney should help a local government respond to records requests. Recently, Blauvelt worked with me to get records related to Port of Grays Harbor activities. He was on vacation and set a date of when he’d be back and would be able to work on my requests. Promptly and cordially, he then provided records I sought on one request and started to get to work on the other.

He answered my questions — which is not a requirement under the state Public Records Act — and he diligently hunted down a few more records.

He’s a class act. I appreciate his effort.

Montesano City Administrator Kristy Powell has also done an excellent job responding to my record requests. However, when a grievance was filed against her by Public Works employees, she had to recuse herself from her position as public records officer.

It’s been a head scratcher dealing with Montesano city administration ever since.

Mayor Ken Estes says he’s working with his labor attorney and the city’s contracted attorney on the grievance the union filed against Powell. The Vidette learned of the grievance before it was ever filed. However, it was actually filed a day or so after our initial public records request, which was generally worded. When it didn’t emerge after the city’s first batch of documents were turned over, we specifically asked for it. That was on April 29. When it still wasn’t released, The Vidette sent an email on May 2, seeking the grievance. Estes wrote a letter saying the city would work on the requests. They needed three weeks.

But on Monday, the city’s contracted attorneys decided those original record requests somehow didn’t count. They wanted a new record request filed. In protest, The Vidette has filed that records request, but insisted the previous three requests did count.

Mayor Estes recently joined me at a forum on the Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act. He spent about 90 minutes there. He was the only elected official I saw in the room. He deserves major kudos for attending. My hope is he learned enough to fight for these records and stop the delay tactics of his attorneys. He’s in a tough spot here with competing forces all around him. Totally understood. But, after three weeks of waiting, there’s no legitimate reason not to turn over documents about public employees being investigated using your taxpayer funds. At this point, it’s all about delay tactics.

Meantime, let’s put the public back in public records request and take real advantage of all of the anonymous emails, letters and phone calls coming our way on this issue. Anyone out there have a copy of the grievance?

If so, email it to me at editor@thevidette.com or drop it off at 109 W. Marcy in Montesano. We have a mail slot. It’s a good bet you’ll get it to me faster than City Hall.

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