Record request costly for Port of Kennewick

KENNEWICK -- The largest public record request the Port of Kennewick ever has faced could cost the agency more than $100,000 and force many projects to be shelved next year.

Kennewick attorney John Ziobro asked the port in August for travel expense records going back to 2005 for all port employees and commissioners.

Ziobro won't say who his client is or why he wants to see what is expected to be thousands of pages of documents.

Tammy Fine, the port's finance director, said the cost for providing the first 1,191 pages is $18,528.

And the total cost could exceed $100,000 -- about 3 percent of the port's annual budget -- by the time port officials are done, at least six months from now.

"I'm shocked it would cost that much," Ziobro told the Herald. He described his request as straightforward. "It shouldn't be difficult or costly to answer."

Ziobro's records request came just as the port was wrapping up an internal investigation into alleged errors by Port Commissioner David Hanson in his filing of expense reimbursements in the past three years.

"I would call it coincidental," Ziobro said, in explaining the timing of his request and the Hanson investigation.

That internal review of documents, which involved two law firms and an auditor from Seattle, identified $1,171 in questionable reimbursements to Hanson for travel expenses. Hanson since has refunded the amount, noting that errors were made "on both sides."

Fine told the Herald that the port's cost for the internal investigation was $68,620.

And already port employees have spent 365 hours in August and September preparing the first batch of records for Ziobro's request. It consumed more than half of Fine's time last month, she said.

The salary cost in staff time was just more than $5,000, which did not include the fees of port attorney Lucinda Luke, who reviewed the records before they were given to Ziobro.

Those records represent expenses and the supporting documents of a current port commissioner and a former employee, Fine said. They have 11 more port employees' records left to review.

"The law requires this take precedence, so we'll have to reprioritize. In other words, some other projects won't be completed this year," said Tim Arntzen, the port's executive director. "This is the first time we've had a request of this magnitude, and I want to make sure we put the right amount of resources on this."

Arntzen recently told the commissioners he is taking several projects that were planned for 2012 off his to-do list because of the shift in priorities.

Those projects include:

* Pursuing a grant to help pay for $500,000 in shoreline improvements on Clover Island between The Cedars restaurant and the Clover Island Inn.

* Planning for an outdoor stage near the Clover Island Inn.

* Planning for port-owned property along Columbia Drive, including the former Willows Trailer Park.

* Planning with Richland for a proposed wine village project near Badger Mountain, and buying other sites in Richland.

* Adding a development building in West Richland.

* Rehabilitating a port building on Oak Street in Kennewick that formerly was the Ti Sports facility.

* Training staff this year.

Arntzen said he also has had to cancel several trips to visit airports similar to Vista Field because he has to oversee work on Ziobro's request and had to reassign staff duties so the port could have time to apply for a grant to seal the tarmac next year.

Paring back the projects will free up funds needed to pay for staff costs associated with the public records request, Arntzen said.