Bainbridge sued by wife of former city manager

The wife of Bainbridge’s last city manager has filed a lawsuit against the city of Bainbridge Island.

Lisa Schulze, a former island resident who moved to Banning, California after her husband Doug Schulze took over as that town’s city manager, is claiming that Bainbridge officials illegally withheld official public records that were sent and received by Councilman Ron Peltier on his personal cellphone.

Earlier this year, Lisa Schulze had submitted a records request to the city of Bainbridge Island to obtain all text messages and other communications sent by Peltier for a four-month period between September 2018 and January 2019.

Schulze, in the lawsuit, said the city failed to provide records as required under Washington state’s Public Records Act.

According to the lawsuit, filed Sept. 4 in Kitsap County Superior Court, the city tried to issue Peltier a city-owned cellphone to use for official business, which he declined to use. He instead “elected to use his personal cell phone for both personal and official business.”

Peltier reportedly told city officials he had searched his cellphone for records after he was notified of Schulze’s request, but Schulze said the city had not provided all of the records it needed to hand over, and added that Peltier’s search of his cellphone was inadequate.

Schulze dismissed a May affidavit that Peltier signed that described his search for the records, and called it “woefully nonsensical.”

Schulze is asking a judge to order that the missing records be provided, and for the city to pay a penalty of up to $100 a day, per record, for every day the records were not provided. She has also asked the judge to require the city to pay her attorney fees.

City officials could not comment in detail about the lawsuit Wednesday. City Manager Morgan Smith said she was not aware that the city had actually been served yet.

The roots of the lawsuit stretch back to the departure of former city manager Doug Schulze and his move to Banning in 2018.

Schulze, in a farewell interview with a Bremerton newspaper, said that his bad relationship with Peltier was one of the reasons he was leaving his Bainbridge job.

Peltier was incensed by the newspaper story, and later filed two ethics complaints against Schulze with the International City Manager’s Association. (The association, which represents city managers and other professionals in local government management, eventually dismissed Peltier’s complaint and said no ethical violation had occurred.)

Earlier this year, in February, Lisa Schulze filed an ethics complaint against Peltier with Bainbridge’s Ethics Board after she discovered that Peltier had contacted Banning City Councilman Don Peterson after her husband took over as Banning’s city manager, and Peltier shared information with Peterson about Bainbridge’s former manager that was then used to attack Doug Schulze on Facebook.

Schulze complained that Peltier had launched an ongoing campaign of harassment against the Schulzes, and in its ruling on the complaint, the city’s Ethics Board agreed.

Ethics officials called Peltier’s behavior “unprofessional,” “unacceptable” and “bullying, pure and simple.”

“In the simplest terms possible, the Ethics Board’s opinion is: stop this harassing behavior,” the board said in its report.

The new lawsuit is the third public records lawsuit filed against the city of Bainbridge Island this year.

The latest lawsuit was filed by attorney Nicholas Power, a Friday Harbor-based attorney who is also representing David Dunn, a former detective for the Seattle Police Department, and Brian Wilkinson, a Bainbridge firefighter, in their lawsuit against the city of Bainbridge Island.

Dunn and Wilkinson said the city failed to adequately respond to requests for public records that were made to retrieve official correspondence from Councilwoman Rasham Nassar, who also used her personal cellphone for official city business after joining the council last year.

That lawsuit was filed on July 12 in Kitsap County Superior Court and is still pending. It includes many of the same claims raised in the Schulze lawsuit; that the city violated the state’s Public Records Act by failing to conduct an adequate search for the records that were sought, not properly safeguarding and retaining public records, and foot-dragging on the release of records.

The city of Bainbridge Island has a growing history of legal trouble with safeguarding and adequately providing public records.

Bainbridge was sued in Kitsap County Superior Court for violations of the Public Records Act in 2013 after it was discovered that multiple city council members were using their personal email accounts to conduct public business, and two councilmen named in the lawsuit deleted public records from their personal email accounts that had been sought by the public.

The city eventually settled the case for $487,790, but the cost to the city was much more, and included hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on outside attorneys hired to help fight the lawsuit, as well as staff time and other costs.

Another lawsuit against the city filed this year was also related to public records, but centered on a private citizen who wanted the city to keep secret the records of her DUI arrest and pretrial diversion agreement.

The “Jane Doe” lawsuit was filed in May against the city as well as the person who had asked for records relating to the “use of force” by Bainbridge police officers.

The woman who filed the lawsuit had been arrested and charged with impaired driving in January 2018. In the lawsuit, she asked that a Bainbridge police bodycam video showing her take a breath test during a DUI investigation not be released as part of a set of 16 cases that had been requested by a man in Yakima.

The woman later asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, and it was dismissed by a Kitsap judge in July.

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