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Who's Who | Christine Brown: Tireless on the public’s right to know
Editor's note: Each year, the Bainbridge Island Review publishes our Who's Who, a special section filled with personality profiles of the people who help make Bainbridge Island unique.
Christine Brown starts her work day and ends her work day by spinning her wheels.
It’s just the way she likes it.
Brown is near famous at Bainbridge Island City Hall for her trademark trek — to and fro, on her bicycle, rain or shine, early morning or after late-night council meeting — that’s not only eco-friendly, but admirable.
The two-wheeled commute works out to be about 15 miles.
“She puts us all to shame,” said Bainbridge Island Interim City Manager Morgan Smith.
Brown, the city’s paralegal and a deputy city clerk, started working for the city six years ago.
She was living in Seattle with her husband Jay and 18-month-old son Will, when they came over to Bainbridge Island on a biking excursion and just fell in love with the place.
“We were looking for a good place for him to grow up. We moved here for the school district, basically,” she said.
Their second son, Henry, was born just after they moved to the island 13 years ago.
Born in Virginia, raised in Nebraska, [started college in Carelton college] before finishing at the University of Washington.
Bainbridge, of course, is home now.
“I’ve been slowly moving west. And I’m not planning to go any further,” she laughed.
Before Bainbridge, she worked at two Seattle law firms, in the “much more glamorous” work of aircraft finance, which included travel to Bermuda, Taipei and other exotic locales.
Now, at city hall, she reviews contracts, handles real property issues (such as surplus and land transfers), steps in as clerk at council work sessions, and drafts ordinances and resolutions.
Most outside city hall, however, know Brown as the staff who is in charge of handling requests for public records.
It’s a mountain of work, one that has grown noticeably since last August, the start of the election cycle in 2011.
Requests for public records have come in lately at the pace of more than one a day.
“The number of requests escalated and the complexity of the requests escalated,” she recalled.
“I think people just want more information about what is going on with our government.”
And requesting records, she added, “It’s a good way to get information.”
The requests range from small, easy-to-fulfill ones to those that aren’t. Brown looks at it as a challenge.
“It’s nice to pull out something from 15 years ago and say, ‘Here it is.’”
Many of the names of those requesting documents would be familiar to avid newspaper readers, from the people in the stories to the ones that write about them.
One of the largest requests for records recently came from the Seattle Times, which later published a critical report on the Bainbridge Island Police Department that contained information gleaned from the documents the city assembled.
Those records, prompted by 13 requests that came from the newspaper on the same day, took four months to pull together and filled four banker’s boxes.
The boxes are still stacked up in Brown’s office.
“It was so much work to put it together that I’m not dismantling it until I’m sure we are done,” she said.
There have been times when people have asked for records, but have never bothered to come look at them. There have been times when others have asked for documents that, well, don’t exist. And still other documents can’t be released for legal reasons, as well.
Even so, Brown said, helping citizens see how its government operates is rewarding in many ways, no matter what they are after.
“I think it’s a really important public service and we can win over some of the people who are frustrated with their city government by making it accessible. It shows people can check up on us, and I think that’s great.”
Outside city hall, Brown is well-known for her volunteer work at island schools. Her magic-touch reputation with school yearbooks — she’s a humble yet seriously skilled photographer — is well-earned.
That said, many still know her, beyond her almost spotless dedication to biking — “I draw the line at snow” — as the go-to person for getting on the paper trail at city hall.
“It is definitely nice to work for your city government, to really feel like you can make a difference in the community where you live,” she said.
“I’m a huge fan of Bainbridge Island.”