A Franklin County judge has decided Pasco city officials were too slow providing public records to a Pasco man who is trying to prevent the city from annexing a county "doughnut hole" on the west side of the city.
Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner notified Roger Lenk and attorneys for the city of Pasco by letter during the weekend that the city was several months slow in providing documents to Lenk under the state's public records law.
The letter addresses 23 document requests by Lenk during the past year in his attempt to show the city was planning for more than two years to annex part of the Riverview area, which has about 4,000 residents.
Lenk contends the city was negotiating with Franklin Fire District 3 to allow the annexation without a public vote.
"This comes as good news to the public. I want the people to know how corrupt the city council and city leadership is," Lenk said Monday.
Lenk said he sued only to bring the records out in the public, not to collect penalties that could be as much as $100 per day for every violation of the state Public Records Act.
Spanner noted that the city was 96 days late in giving Lenk an email sent April 13, 2011, about the annexation issue from Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear to Franklin Fire District 3 Fire Chief Les Litzenberger.
The judge also said the city was 48 days late in giving Lenk an email sent July 25, 2011, from City Manager Gary Crutchfield to city council members about annexation costs.
Both records, Lenk said, showed the city was committed to the annexation before taking it to the public.
About a year ago, Pasco announced its intentions to annex the 4-square-mile area known as the "doughnut hole," using the authority granted by utility agreements that a majority of residents signed when they connected to city water and sewer lines.
Instead of going ahead with the annexation using the utility agreements, Pasco tried to negotiate an agreement with the fire district and Franklin County.
After the annexation talks stalled, some "doughnut hole" residents, including Lenk, said they wanted to form their own city rather than become part of Pasco.
But the Pasco council voted in June to move ahead with annexing part of the doughnut hole to stop residents from incorporating.
Gear's email to Litzenberger in April asked: "Has your board had a chance to talk about our agreement yet? We had planned on addressing it with the council after the filing period closes."
Litzenberger answered: "Yes the board has discussed the agreement and appreciates the city's decision to proceed at that time ... As everything has been verbal to this point, we may not be exactly on the same page, but at least we're in the same notebook."
An even earlier email from Litzenberger in September 2010 to fire district board members and the board's attorney, confirmed Gear made his first proposal for the annexation of the Riverview area.
Lenk said he obtained copies of the emails in a roundabout way after discovering that fire district Board Member Todd Blackman was using his email account as an employee of the Franklin PUD to receive and reply to fire district emails.
Lenk's public records request to the PUD for Blackman's emails got him all the fire district email correspondence involving the annexation discussions with Pasco officials.
Lenk said once he realized the city wasn't giving him all the records he had requested, he sued the fire district and city a year ago in Franklin County Superior Court.
The fire district settled two months later, paying Lenk $10,000.
Spanner has set a hearing for Sept. 26 to address unresolved issues about the public records request and to determine what financial penalties, if any, apply.
Pasco's attorney Patrick Galloway told the Herald the city staff did the best they could to answer all of Lenk's public records requests.
"We gave him what we had in initial productions. It's tough to produce for these types of requests that ask for any and all records," Galloway said.
"The scope and quantity of (what he asked for) was pretty amazing," Galloway said, noting that it included virtually every piece of paper and document or contact made by council members and the city manager during his 27 years with the city.
"We are still working on most of the requests," said Stan Strebel, deputy city manager, who added that it will probably take three years to complete the task.
Lenk, who worked for the cities of Covina and Artesia, and the Lompoc Healthcare District in Southern California before moving to Richland to be the city's human resources and risk management director, said he has 26 years experience with government.
"I want my boys to understand the government works for them," he said.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org