Roger Lenk files new lawsuits against Pasco

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 7, 2013 

Doughnut hole resident Roger Lenk this week filed two new lawsuits against Pasco alleging the city violated provisions of the state's Public Records Act.

One lawsuit claims Lenk submitted a document request related to the proposed regional aquatic center on Jan. 23, but received no response from the city.

Lenk said in court documents that he instead received a response from the Benton Franklin Council of Governments saying that the agency would fulfill the request because it is handling administrative functions for the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District, the public agency overseeing development of the aquatic center.

The lawsuit said Lenk does not believe the Council of Governments will have the internal Pasco documents he wants.

Lenk also made a records request to Richland and received no response, but Richland is not named in the lawsuit.

When asked if he plans to sue Richland for failing to respond, Lenk replied by email, "I think this will keep me busy for a while."

The second lawsuit was filed Wednesday against the city as well as Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Francik and City Councilman Saul Martinez, and claims the city refused to disclose or improperly exempted emails the two council members sent or received from private or work email accounts other than the email accounts assigned to them by the city.

Neither Francik nor Martinez had read the lawsuit Wednesday, but Francik told the Herald that to the best of her knowledge all relevant emails were given to Lenk.

"To my knowledge, not a single document has been withheld," she said.

Martinez said he thought Lenk's purpose in filing the lawsuit is to burden the city.

"I think it's pretty evident Mr. Lenk is out to discredit those public servants who are not voting in his favor on certain issues," Martinez said. "But the good will prevail and I think what he's doing (shows) a lack of character and goodwill for the community."

Lenk has battled the city since 2011 over annexation of the area of Franklin County known as the "doughnut hole." He has been a leader, along with other members of the Citizens for Lifestyle Preservation group, in efforts to block the annexation and to gather petition signatures to incorporate the doughnut hole as a new city called Riverview.

He has made public records requests that the city has described as voluminous, and was awarded $12,000 in a previous lawsuit in which a judge determined that Pasco hadn't provided records in a timely fashion.

Pasco since has annexed part of the doughnut hole, and Francik and Martinez were among the council members who voted in favor of annexation.

That move, effective Jan. 1, absorbed about 1,400 people into Pasco -- enough of the 4,000 doughnut hole residents to stop incorporation efforts. Franklin County commissioners on Monday opted not to send the incorporation petition to a public vote.

Lenk and the citizen group are continuing to fight the annexation in court.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, Lenk claims that Francik and Martinez improperly used their city email accounts for personal business.

Documents attached to the lawsuit show an email exchange between Francik and City Manager Gary Crutchfield -- both using their city email accounts -- in which Francik asked Crutchfield for his opinion on a cover letter she had written for a job application. She said in the email that she wanted his opinion because he is a manager who hires employees.

Francik acknowledged to the Herald that she had used her city email to send the letter to Crutchfield for feedback, and described it as a "lapse in judgment."

"I don't have very many mentors I can talk to," Francik said. "I did it. I shouldn't have done it."

But she also said she doesn't see any harm to Pasco or its residents because it didn't cost taxpayers anything.

Another set of emails show that Martinez received tuition bills from Whitworth College and a mortgage refinance quote to his city email in 2010.

Martinez was appointed to the council in June 2010 to replace former Mayor Joyce Olson when she moved out of town. He said he didn't have a personal email account at the time he was appointed, and used the city email account because it was the only one he had.

"I made a misjudgment to give out my Pasco council email address," he told the Herald.

But like Francik, he said he sees no harm to the city.

"I want to make it very clear (email use) was on my personal computer and there was no money involved," Martinez said. "It didn't cost anybody anything."

He said he since has created a Hotmail account for his personal use and hasn't received personal documents at his city email since his early months on the council.

"Anything I did on the Pasco council email address was not intended to be a cost to the city or intended to be used in a wrong way of any sort," he said. "I just didn't utilize a (personal) email address back then. Now I have a personal account."

Lenk said in an email to the Herald that the emails attached to the complaint are just a small sampling of ones in which Martinez used city email to conduct personal business.

He said he believes it calls into question whether Martinez is using other city resources to his benefit, although no such allegations are included in the lawsuit.

"One can only wonder if he uses the status of his position to seek favorable terms for his home loan, business dealings and other activities which include personal trips, video rentals, hotel visits, etc.," Lenk said.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @mduplertch

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