Openness and transparency in Sammamish have taken another hit as Mayor Tom Vance and Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay appear to have withheld emails requested under
the State Public Records Act.
This is especially ironic because Huckabay, in a last-minute email and letter-writing campaign against Council Member Ramiro Valderrama, who is seeking reelection, and candidates Tom Hornish and Christie Malchow, has made openness and transparency her top point against these three.
Sammamish Comment filed a multi-part Public Records Request (PRR) August 27 in pursuit of several stories that subsequently were posted as information was developed through interviews and records. Included in that multi-part request was the following:
Subject: All emails from the City server and the personal email accounts:
- relating any and all Public Records Requests of any kind to, from and/or between Tom Vance, Tom Odell and Kathy Huckabay on any subject.
City Clerk Melonie Anderson responded Thursday last week:
“Both Tom Vance and Kathy [Huckabay] reported that they did not have any responsive emails and the attached are the ones I received from Tom Odell. I believe that this request has been satisfied and will close it out. I apologize for the long delay in getting these to you.”
The problem: Odell’s emails from his personal accounts included emails to/from Vance and Huckabay using their personal accounts that they did not produce.
On Friday, Sammamish Comment brought this to Anderson’s attention, who is now pursuing the matter.
The underlying issue, of course, is what they have that they should have produced under State Law that they did not.
The Comment’s objective in seeking the emails between these three had to do with specific topics being pursued. The characterization of “any subject” was used to avoid tipping them off to the targets of the investigations.
What has now emerged is a different direction than the topics originally pursued, in large part because other sources, including interviews, City Council video archives and other public records provided the data needed to proceed with posts. Instead, now the issues of openness and transparency and compliance with State law emerge.
Openness and Transparency
Openness and transparency have been issues throughout this election season in Sammamish. Critics of the City and City Council and many citizens who have issues with the City complained for years that the City Administration and Council have not been open and transparent for years. These are key issues for Council Member Vaderrama, who has been isolated by the Administration and ruling majority the so-called Gang of 4, in his repeated quests for information on a variety of topics. Valderrama is seeking reelection against nominal opposition. Malchow, seeking election to the open Position 2 seat, and Hornish, challenging Vance’s reelection bid, join Valderrama is pledging a new era of openness and transparency.
Vance, Huckabay and Odell in particular oppose his reelection. They also oppose Machlow’s election over their ally, former Mayor and former Council Member Mark Cross. Huckabay and Odell support Vance’s reelection over Hornish’s challenge.
Sammamish Comment chronicled some of the efforts by the Gang of 4 to recruit a candidate to oppose Valderrama. The Comment also reported pressure exerted by the Gang on Valderrama endorsees to withdraw their support, and also to not endorse Malchow or Hornish. Included in one of the posts were details of a massive Public Records Request by Redmond resident Stephanie Megan Pipes for all of Valderrama’s 2014 emails from his City and his personal email accounts.
Odell immediately requests that in the interests of “transparency,” the emails be supplied to all Council members, an unprecedented move.
During the production of the City emails by Staff, it was discovered that some emails were corrupted and some were deemed exempt. Pipes declined to proceed with further efforts to produce them, including the option of a court challenge to the exemptions. But Huckabay then took up the effort, demanding in her own PRR all the emails for which Pipes “changed her mind,” including the corrupted files and those exempt. A court hearing to the exempted emails is scheduled for November 5. (Valderrama has no part in the court proceeding.)
Huckabay a week ago Sunday began an email campaign from her personal account raising questions about endorsements and campaign contributions for Hornish and Malchow from fire fighters, demanding “openness and transparency” about the motives for them and what was “promised” in return. Letters to The Sammamish Review in the final week of the campaign, clearly taking the lead from Huckabay’s email distribution talking points, also point to this.
Huckabay did not disclose that in her own previous City Council races, she received fire fighter endorsements. In her 2004 campaign for State Senator for the 5th Legislative District (which no longer includes part of Sammamish, but now covers the KIahanie area), then-Mayor Huckabay received fire fighter endorsements and campaign contributions.
The irony of Huckabay demanding “openness and transparency” while failing to produce emails from her private accounts that Odell’s own records production proves exist is not hard to see.
State law treats emails as public records. Emails on City servers are obvious public records.
Case law also requires production of emails of public officials from private email accounts when involving City issues, which are broadly interpreted.
Council Member Nancy Whitten routinely forwards emails sent to her private email account to her City account, or adds her City email address as a CC in her reply to the sender precisely because of case law and legal opinions about the public records of private accounts.
Valderrama, when responding to the massive email PRR from Pipes, asked the City Attorney about several emails whether they were required to be produced. Those not related to City business and routine list-serve emails from civic groups were exempt but emails that touched on City issues—like Sammamish Comment distributions that went to Valderrama’s private account—had to be produced, he said.
But Vance and Huckabay told City Clerk Anderson they had no such emails. Odell’s email production proves otherwise.
Some of the emails Odell produced were emails from The Sammamish Comment editor to Huckabay on her private email address discussing the Initiative and Referendum last April that she forwarded to Odell. One reply from Odell to Vance, Huckabay and Council Member Bob Keller (the Gang of 4), all on their private emails, opined of The Comment editor, “There is no doubt that Scott is definitely on the dark side.”
Vance was included on some of the distributions of the Odell-produced emails, but Vance did not produce them under the PRR.
There are emails from Huckabay to Odell, Vance, Council Member Don Gerend and others, using private emails for all the City officials involving City business, to and from environmentalist Wally Pereyra that were not produced from the private email accounts of Vance and Huckabay.
This raises the obvious question: what other City business is being conducted on the private emails of the Council Members, what emails are not being produced under PRRs and why not?
All in the name of openness and transparency, of course—as well as compliance with State law.
The election is one week from today.