Fire district settles lawsuit over doughnut hole papers

Franklin Fire District 3 has settled a public records lawsuit filed by a critic of Pasco's attempt to annex a large county doughnut hole using a new process.

The district will pay Roger Lenk, one of about 4,000 doughnut hole residents, $10,000 and provide him with affidavits of conversations between fire district and city representatives under the settlement signed last week.

Pasco, Franklin County and Franklin Fire District 3 have been talking about an annexation of about two square miles of county land using a process that allows an interlocal agreement among the three entities. Most of the area is between Sylvester and Argent roads, and roads 52 and 100.

Lenk filed requests under the state's Open Public Records Act with Pasco and Franklin Fire District 3 for documents related to the annexation discussion.

Among the documents he received were draft agreements between the city and fire district that showed proposed terms for a planned annexation.

But Lenk told the Herald in October that he found documents other public agencies had that the fire district did not include in its response to his public record requests. He filed a lawsuit in Franklin County Superior Court on Sept. 10.

Fire District Chief Les Litzenberger said Friday that the fire district then found the documents, which were accidentally overlooked during the search. The documents were then given to Lenk.

A settlement does not mean that the district admits any wrongdoing.

Although the district provided the unintentionally omitted documents, Litzenberger said it was after what would likely be considered timely. The Open Records Act does not distinguish between withholding records or unintentionally omitting them.

The district determined the $10,000 settlement would be less than what the lawsuit could cost taxpayers if it continued, he said. The district also had already spent about $6,000 on legal fees.

That money will come from what the district uses to fight fires and provide emergency services, Litzenberger said. Most of the district's revenue is from property taxes.

The district's focus is providing fire and emergency services to about 150 square miles of land in the county, which includes about 7,000 homes, Litzenberger said. With five paid staff, including the fire chief, it simply did not have enough resources to do a thorough and efficient records search.

The Herald was unable to reach Lenk on Friday about the settlement.