A Tri-City judge Wednesday took up the question of just how much Pasco should pay -- if anything -- for being tardy in providing public records to a Franklin County resident seeking information about a proposed annexation.
Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner heard arguments from Roger Lenk, the man suing the city about public records, claiming Pasco officials intentionally withheld documents about the annexation until he proved they existed by finding them elsewhere.
Other documents were provided anywhere from a month to more than a year late, and Lenk has outstanding public records requests he's been told won't be filled until December 2015.
"This has been an extremely frustrating endeavor on my part," Lenk told Spanner. "It appears they've tried to find the minimal number of documents they could and produced that and hoped I'd go away. I don't believe they've acted in good faith."
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But Patrick Galloway, the attorney representing Pasco, said Lenk hadn't gotten the documents because of simple human error -- namely a computer search that didn't include thorough enough search terms to turn up every document Lenk wanted.
Galloway said an employee in the city's information services department did the search using terms based on Lenk's request and turned up about 300 emails, then a second employee narrowed the search using "annexation."
"That is the reason the city failed to produce the emails," Galloway said. "The court already determined it was an inadequate search."
But in deciding how much Pasco will have to pay in penalties, the judge should consider whether there was a reasonable explanation for the failure.
"I think there is no evidence presented to the court that this was intentional. It was an honest mistake," Galloway said.
Lenk has made nearly two dozen public records requests to Pasco seeking information about the proposed annexation of the so-called "doughnut hole" area -- an island of Franklin County land surrounded by the city, in part hoping to show the city had been negotiating the annexation with Franklin Fire District 3 for more than a year before the proposal became public at a city council meeting in July 2011.
Spanner ruled via a letter to Lenk and the city earlier this month that Pasco had provided some of the records several months too late.
State law allows public agencies to be penalized anywhere from $0 to $100 per day for every violation of the state's Public Records Act.
While Galloway argued the city's "honest mistake" should result in no monetary penalty, Lenk said he'd leave the dollar amount at Spanner's discretion.
Spanner said he'd issue his decision in a letter within about a month.