State auditor: Pasco City Council email use did not violate state law

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldMay 7, 2014 

The state Auditor's Office has rejected most of the complaints made against the Pasco City Council and city staff by an annexation opponent.

Council members Saul Martinez and Rebecca Francik did not violate city or state policy by sending personal emails from their city accounts, said Ginny Waltman, the auditor's office's Tri-City team manager in an April 23 letter to Roger Lenk.

City Manager Gary Crutchfield did violate the city's policy, though not state law, by responding to the emails on a city computer, the letter said.

Personal use of city email accounts is allowed, as long as council members are using their own computers, Waltman wrote.

"Based on our review, we did not identify evidence that council members obtained otherwise inaccessible benefits by using the email system or their position," she wrote.

Lenk submitted 252 pages in September to the state attorney general and auditor's offices detailing his complaints about Martinez and Francik. The attorney general's office told him that the issue was the auditor's responsibility, and the auditor decided to include Lenk's complaint as part of its accountability audit for Pasco, which was released this week.

Lenk had requested emails and other files from four council members who voted for annexing part of the "doughnut hole," which were included in the submission. The city took in some of the area surrounded by west Pasco last year after a contentious battle with some residents of the unincorporated area.

Lenk, who lives in an unincorporated area of Franklin County that the city wants to annex in the coming years, co-founded the anti-annexation group Citizens for Lifestyle Preservation.

The emails in Lenk's complaint showed Francik using her city account to apply for a job with a library in Pullman and asking Crutchfield for help with her cover letter so she could apply for another job with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Martinez received emails about video rentals, a mortgage refinance quote and tuition at Whitworth University, Lenk's complaint stated.

The complaint also said it was inappropriate for Martinez to vote on agenda items involving the Heritage Industrial Center, a planned 400-acre development in east Pasco, alleging his brother was a manager and owns property. Lenk said that such votes benefit Martinez and his company, Desert Plateau Transport Inc.

But the auditor's office determined that Martinez and his immediate family do not own property in Heritage, which means they would not have benefited from improvements there.

Martinez told the Herald that the complaints were the result of a small group opposed to the annexation. He said it was time to move beyond such differences.

"I just hope we can come together and work to make this happen in an orderly fashion," he said of possible future annexations. "I want to collaborate with everybody involved to improve the quality of life for our citizens."

Lenk hopes that his complaint will show people what their elected officials are doing on city time, he said.

"The people need to know that council member Martinez ran his trucking business out of city hall," he said. "There's no way a council member should be doing that. Council member Francik was soliciting jobs as a council member, using her power of office to set up an interview -- that's wrong."

The city has already provided Lenk with more than 120,000 pages of documents at a cost of almost $50,000, plus another $120,000 in attorney fees. And Pasco is required to deliver more requested documents.

Pasco's recent state audit returned no findings, meaning the city followed state laws in the areas that were examined. Auditor's office spokesman Thomas Shapley said that even though Crutchfield violated city policy by using Pasco equipment to respond to Francik, the violation did not rise to the need for a finding against the city.

The city has since changed its policy to allow for limited personal computer use by employees, Crutchfield said.

"We revised the policy so that people aren't getting in trouble for such minor indiscretions," he said. "The state Auditor's Office can do what I did, and they wouldn't get in trouble."

Lenk laughed after being told of the change.

"It's good to be king, you know," he said.

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

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