Dale Walter of Kennewick wants an explanation of Kennewick Irrigation District's water rates.
Mesa's Donna Zink said her city messed up in not providing routine public records that she sought.
And Larry Loges of Prosser claims his frustrations left him no choice but to fight city hall.
All three have used Washington's Public Records Act to obtain public documents they felt would help answer their questions and concerns about local government.
They're among a growing group from all walks of life -- even from the state's prison system -- who have used the public records law to raise hell. And in the process they have sometimes have wreaked havoc on city, county and state budgets.
That has moved the battle to the state Legislature, which is considering 21 bills proposing to reform the public records act.
Advocates for change, which include the Association of Washington Cities and the Attorney General's Office, contend some people have used the act in ways that are too burdensome and too costly to public agencies.
"There are those times people use it for purely personal reasons that wouldn't seem to be what the Public Records Act was intended," said Lisa Beaton, Kennewick city attorney.
Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Newspapers of Washington, said legislative assaults on the 39-year-old records act are perennial. Hardly a year goes by without bills being presented to water down Washington's law governing public access to public documents.
"None of these bills will make it," Thompson predicted. He does expect a compromise bill that would provide for a zero penalty to alleviate concerns about small cities being hammered with six-digit fines if they make mistakes, as Mesa did.
Greg Overstreet, a former assistant attorney general who now works on open government issues for Seattle's Allied Law Group, said local governments and public agencies like to refer to "evil requesters."
But Overstreet said he has an equal number of horror stories about officials from local government and public agencies who abuse their power.
Loges, whose pummeling of city hall for documents resulted in a court-ordered penalty of $175,000 against Prosser, feels no guilt.
"I know I'm a thorn in the side for Prosser, but I'm just trying to see what's going on in government," he said.
Loges, who is retired and living on income from owning two trailer courts in the city, said Washington's Public Records Act is "essential," even if it costs taxpayers thousands of dollars to meet his demands.
"I can't just ask questions in Prosser because the city won't answer them. But with the Public Records Act, I can get documents that will show me what is happening in city hall," he said.
"The public records act is essential for openness in government. The Legislature should leave the public records act as it is, with no changes," he added.
Prosser was ordered to pay Loges because the city balked at providing public records he requested.
He insists he didn't even break even.
"In all honesty, it has cost me a lot of money. I spent more than the award on attorney fees in that case, and I didn't get a dime," said the longtime Prosser resident. In addition, he spent hundreds of dollars, at 15 cents per page, to obtain copies of documents the city provided.
But Loges continues to demand public records in Prosser. He has another public records lawsuit against Prosser pending in federal court and said his lawyer is poised to file another as he seeks to expose alleged favoritism in Prosser's water and sewer billings.
"I filed a public records request every day for more than a month (last summer)," Loges said in September. Actually, he presented 45 official demands that month alone, according to City Clerk Rachel Shaw's log of requests.
Walter, a former Kennewick Irrigation District board member and retired accountant, has been asking for documents since not being re-elected to the board two years ago.
"I'm a poor loser, but there's no hostility," he said. Though he admits he didn't even know about the state's public records law before being appointed to the KID board in early 2009, he's since become KID's No. 1 requester.
A pile of paper several feet high represents KID's answers to Walter's records requests. His 49 requests in 2010 were nearly half of the 102 requests KID received and processed through Dec. 15.
The cost to KID ratepayers for staff time was $14,011, some of which included paying $175 an hour for an attorney to review sensitive documents before releasing them, said Chuck Freeman, KID district manager.
Jim Wade, who frequently criticizes the board at its meetings, submitted 26 requests last year, while the Herald made one request a month on average in 2010.
Walter said without Washington's Public Records Act he would be hard-pressed to learn how KID justifies the tiered water rates it imposed in 2009.
He grins and chuckles in casual conversation, but can be a bulldog when talking about accountability and government.
"I feel elected officials, not just KID, have to be held responsible and accountable for their actions," Walter said. "If this was a personal vendetta, I'd be a lot nastier."
Zink, who sued Mesa for withholding public documents, started out using the act in 2002 to find out why a city permit to repair her fire-damaged home was yanked.
Six years later, the former Mesa mayor was awarded $239,000 after a visiting judge in Franklin County Superior Court found city officials improperly withheld documents in 40 records requests.
The lawsuit ruling could force disincorporation or bankruptcy of the town of 455. The fine, which doesn't include interest and legal fees, represents 25 percent of Mesa's annual budget of about $1 million, or about $525 per city resident.
Both Zink and Mesa have appealed the 8-year-old case to the Court of Appeals. Zink said the penalty isn't steep enough, while Mesa wants the court to consider the city's size in setting the fine.
Zink said she made precise requests for such documents as meeting minutes, ordinances and resolutions.
When Mesa refused to hand over records, she said, her only option was to sue. She said she thought when the lawsuit was filed Mesa would simply hand over the records.
She said she still asks for minutes and agendas each month to keep an eye on city officials' actions.
Terri Standridge, Mesa's clerk-treasurer, said the city received 84 records requests in 2010 through Dec. 15, with about four a month from Zink.
The other requests were from the Tri-City Herald and a California marketing company, Standridge said.
Some have said the city didn't know any better and simply made mistakes. But Zink said the city makes decisions that affect her family and other city residents.
That's why possible disincorporation doesn't faze her. "We would do better with Franklin County," she said.