Lenk targets Franklin Fire District 3

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 18, 2014 

The man who has given headaches to numerous Pasco public officials now has turned his attention to Franklin Fire District 3.

Roger Lenk, a resident of the unincorporated "doughnut hole" that is surrounded by west Pasco, filed a complaint with state Auditor Troy Kelley on Wednesday. Secretary of State Kim Wyman and Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant also received copies.

He's accusing the fire district's chief and commissioners of fraud, abuse and misappropriation and theft of public resources.

Lenk, a former government employee in Richland and in California, has filed extensive public records requests with Pasco and the fire district after the city began considering annexing about a square mile of the doughnut hole.

He helped put a proposition on the ballot that would have rolled back two recent annexations if passed and changed Pasco's form of government, but the items came up short at the ballot box.

Some of the fire district documents Lenk obtained through his records request were cited in last week's complaint to the auditor's office.

"At this point, our team will look at it and do a little triage and go from there," said spokesman Thomas Shapley.

Lenk accuses Tawna Maiden, a District 3 paramedic and firefighter, of using a district pickup to attend yard sales on Aug. 31 in the Riverview area. He called it an inappropriate use of district resources and said her fire district pickup and T-shirt could get her better pricing than the general public.

The district's retiring chief, Les Litzenberger, told the Herald that Maiden was the on-call officer that weekend, allowing her to use district assets on personal errands during unscheduled work hours.

On-call officers, who are paid $157.50 a weekend, are expected to be available to respond to emergencies at all times.

"We do allow the duty officers in their personal time to utilize the vehicles for personal business and remain available for response," Litzenberger said.

Lenk's complaint included claims that Maiden was at the yard sale with her mother, who he identified as Litzenberger's girlfriend. He included pictures of two women at a yard sale, as well as Facebook pictures of Litzenberger with a woman.

Lenk received the photos and information from an off-duty Kennewick police officer.

Litzenberger told the Herald that woman pictured with Maiden was her mother, but said the woman is not his girlfriend, Connie Sherman.

Also, he said the district has no rule against allowing an officer to have a family member ride in a district truck.

Lenk also accuses Fire District 3 Commissioner Todd Blackman of not living in the district in November 2011, when Blackman was re-elected after running unopposed.

The complaint said the county's elections department sent a letter to Blackman's home in the doughnut hole in December 2011, notifying him of his victory. But the letter was returned with an unsigned handwritten note saying that Blackman hadn't lived at the address since September 2011 and now lived inside the Pasco city limits.

Lenk contends Blackman was ineligible to stay in office or run for re-election that fall.

Blackman told the Herald he never broke rules on district residency. He said he still owns the home on Ivy Road and now lives in another house in the district.

Blackman said he and his wife were going through a divorce at the time the letter was returned.

"It was a time of uncertainty," he said. "I wasn't sure where I was going to go or what I was going to do."

Lenk's complaint to the state names Litzenberger, along with commissioners Ron Shuck and Tom Hughes and fire district attorney Dan F. Hultgrenn, as co-respondents, claiming they knew about Blackman's ineligibility and didn't take action.

Lenk's wife, Lisa Douglas, ran unsuccessfully against Shuck for his seat on the district commission in the November 2013 election.

In another charge, Lenk accuses Blackman of using his work email account with the Franklin Public Utility District to conduct business for the fire district.

He said Blackman, the PUD's energy conservation manager, sent more than 780 emails, text messages and 729 megabytes of data inappropriately.

Blackman also attended conferences, meetings and other fire district business while on PUD time, Lenk said.

Lenk's complaint is largely based on emails that were already reviewed by the state Public Disclosure Commission, Blackman said. He was fined $50 by the PDC for sending them, Blackman said.

Blackman is involved in many community and government activities, so using multiple email accounts can be confusing, he said.

"That's one of the things about being busy is you can make mistakes," Blackman told the Herald.

"Similar to his personal life, respondent Blackman appears incapable of exercising fidelity to taxpayers and ratepayers, instead plunging his snout into the bounteous public troughs accessible by way of his multiple paid public employments," Lenk wrote in his complaint.

Blackman said Lenk doesn't know what he's talking about.

"He's never come to me and had a man-to-man conversation," he said. "He's read my email and tried to figure out who I am and what I'm about."

Litzenberger declined to discuss the complaints involving Blackman.

Some of the complaints were based on emails Lenk received as part of public records requests he made after discussions on annexation between the fire district and Pasco. A judge ruled the city had to pay Lenk more than $12,000 for failing to provide some emails related to the requests, while the fire district settled with him for $10,000.

Last year, Lenk filed complaints with the auditor's office against Pasco City Council members Rebecca Francik and Saul Martinez, alleging they were using their public email accounts for personal reasons.

Francik and Martinez were two of the four council members Lenk sought emails from after they voted in favor of annexing part of the doughnut hole. He also sought most of City Manager Gary Crutchfield's correspondences from his 30 years with the city. Because of the volume of the request, the city is releasing the documents in batches, and it's expected to take until February 2016 to complete Lenk's request.

Shapley, with the auditor's office, said auditors talked with Lenk on Dec. 18 about his allegations against Francik and Martinez, as well as another complaint that Pasco School District Superintendent Saundra Hill used public resources to promote a $46.8 million bond.

The allegations will be addressed as part of the city and school district's regular state accountability audits.

"We encourage those people who have concerns to let us know about it," Shapley said.

The city's audit is expected to be released this month, while work is just starting on the school district's audit, which isn't expected to be released for several months, Shapley said.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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