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Activist seeks three years of emails from three Bainbridge council members
Email activist Gary Tripp has jumped into the ongoing fray over city council members' emails.
Tripp submitted a public records request to the city of Bainbridge Island on Oct. 3, and asked for nearly three years of emails sent by three city council members to each other or Bainbridge citizens.
In the request, Tripp asked the city to search any city owned or personal computers to find any emails on city business that were sent by Councilman Bob Scales, Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos and Councilwoman Anne Blair.
The records request comes as the city is currently fighting a lawsuit in Kitsap County Superior Court from two Bainbridge residents who had also asked for council member emails. Althea Paulson and Robert Fortner filed a lawsuit Sept. 10 against the city of Bainbridge Island that claimed the city and council members Steve Bonkowski, David Ward and Debbi Lester failed to turn over public records that had been requested under the state's Public Records Act. Paulson and Fortner took the city, and the three council members, to court after the pair discovered that the trio had withheld emails from their private email accounts that discussed city business and issues before the council.
When asked if his public records request was related to the public records lawsuit against Bainbridge, Tripp said, "Absolutely."
Tripp said he wanted to point out the hypocrisy of the council members named in his request and the citizens involved in the lawsuit.
"I've seen hard copies of emails from Scales, Hytopoulos and other councilmen from their private email accounts conducting city business in the time frame that I've requested," Tripp said.
Tripp has requested emails from Blair, Hytopoulos and Scales from Feb. 20, 2010 through Sept. 30, 2013.
The city has started collecting emails in response to the request.
Christine Brown, the public records officer for the city of Bainbridge Island, said Blair — who joined the council in January 2012 — has already provided emails from her personal account to the city.
Scales has already forwarded approximately 200.
Scales and Hytopoulos have also offered to give the email account passwords from their personal accounts to the city so the city's public records officer can search for any emails that would fit the definition of a public record.
The two council members also said they were willing to hand over their personal computers to the city so they could be searched for emails that would be considered public records.
"Especially in light of the lawsuit, I want to give the city as much access to the emails as I have," Hytopoulos said. "I want to be as transparent as possible."
As a public official, Scales said he has a duty to turn over emails that are considered public records.
"It comes with the territory," Scales said.
He also said having the city's public records officer search through his personal email account would remove any doubt that all appropriate records were released.
"I want to make sure that everything is done as thoroughly as possible by the city and there's no question that all the available records are disclosed," he said.
"If the city also wants to examine my computer, I'll make that available as well," Scales said.
The offer by Scales and Hytopoulos stands in stark contrast to the position taken by Bonkowski, Ward and Lester in the city's public records court case. Bonkowski, Ward and Lester have cited privacy concerns and have not given the city the opportunity to search for public records in their personal email accounts. A Superior Court judge is expected to decide by the end of the month if Bonkowski, Ward and Lester should be ordered to turn over their computer hard drives for inspection.
Tripp said Tuesday he would cancel his public records request for council member emails if Paulson would drop the lawsuit against the city.
That outcome is unlikely, however.
"What Mr. Tripp does has nothing to do with my records request or our lawsuit," Paulson said.
Paulson noted that her request was very different from Tripp's request. It was for a short period of time, focused on specific content issues, and sought records from everyone on the council.
"Our record request was made of all seven council persons, unlike Mr. Tripp, who is targeting three council persons with whom he does not agree," she said.
"In our review of records disclosed to us before we filed the lawsuit, there was no indication of any of the other three council persons doing any business in the emails that the city released to us," Paulson added.
Paulson said she was sad to hear of Tripp's record request.
"It's a fishing expedition and unbelievably broad. It's an incredible waste of time and money for the city," she said.