Since public record requests seem to be all the rage in certain circles these days – particularly relating to matters Montesano-ish – one item that’s kinda, sorta gotten lost in the spin cycle is the potential cost to taxpayers when a public official balks at complying. (Hi, Council Member Salzer.)
There’s a right way and a wrong way, and attitude is everything.
As noted by the News Tribune in Taxpayers on the Hook for Officials’ Wrongful Secrecy (November 4, 2014), refusal by a public official to comply with the law can take a big bite out of taxpayer wallets.
It’s bizarre. It’s unreal.
Citing a lawsuit brought against the Port of Tacoma Commissioners for playing “fast and loose” with open meetings laws, The Tribune also lays out what happened when Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist and Puyallup City Councilman Steve Vermillion allegedly violated the Public Records Act:
In June, a Pierce County Superior Court judge rightly told Vermillion to cough up emails generated by his private account that pertained to city business – as requested by the same Arthur West who is suing the Port of Tacoma commissioners.
Puyallup is ponying up for Vermillion’s attorney, to the tune of “$31,637.50 to date.” The price tag will only increase as Vermillion’s appeal wends its way to the state Supreme Court. Not to mention the amount of time Puyallup City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto is spending on the case.
Reports The Tribune:
“Lindquists’s case – in which he is fighting disclosure of records and text messages involving his personal cellphone – is proving even more lucrative to outside attorneys. As of mid-October, Pierce County had paid more than $253,000 defending his claim to the appeals court level. (Emphasis mine.)
Now Lindquist is asking the state’s highest court to review the Court of Appeals ruling that a lower court should examine the phone records to determine if they pertained to public business. Ka-ching!
Public officials need to understand that state open records and meetings laws aren’t just suggestions. They play an important role in protecting the public’s interest and – in a litigious society where some people recognize the financial rewards of suing violators – their pocketbooks.”
And oh yes. Don’t forget this “quick advice to local government officials”:
“If you’re using personal email to get around public record requests, consider another line of work.” (The Vidette, posted on-line November 19, 2014.)
In case you’re short on Sominex – don’t say I didn’t warn you – additional resources related to public record requests from the Washington Coalition for Open Government include:
Let’s still see what happens next.
More on matters Montesano-ish that you’re probably not going to here or hear anywhere else. Stay tuned!
Photo credit: Clipartlord.