Records requests prove costly for Camas

Former city employee seeks 700,000 emails

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 
photoKen Kakuk

PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTS

Since 2011, Camas has received 16 public records requests from Ken Kakuk, a former city employee and current city council candidate. In total, the requested records will result in the release of more than 700,000 documents. Below is a sampling of some of the larger requests.

Oct. 6, 2011: All emails between former Mayor Paul Dennis and Kakuk over a six-year period. The city completed the request on Oct. 10, 2011.

Oct. 10, 2011: All of Human Resource Director Jennifer Gorsuch’s emails over a four-year period. The city continues to process this request and hopes to have it completed by 2013. In total, it will include about 50,000 emails.

March 13, 2012: All emails to and from the city’s mayors and city councilors for a seven-year period. The city completed the request on June 12, 2012. It totaled 88,000 emails.

April 3, 2012: All emails to and from former City Administrator Lloyd Halverson and a number of other department directors over the past seven years. The city only has the past two and a half years of emails archived, however. The city is processing the request, which is expected to be include 350,000 emails.

Sept. 28, 2012: All emails to and from a number of city supervisors for the past three years. The city is working on the request, which is expected to include 140,000 emails.

Aug. 8, 2013: Halverson’s total compensation for 2012 and 2013 and all memorandums of understanding with the city’s bargaining groups. This city completed this request on Aug. 13, 2013.

During a typical week, a Camas city employee will sift through thousands of emails, compiling the documents into batches that are part of one of the largest public records requests in the county.

They come from Ken Kakuk, a former city employee who's running for city council and Clark County freeholder. All told, Kakuk's 16 public records requests, filed over the course of nearly two years, will result in the release of more than 700,000 emails, officials say.

The requested records stem from a long-standing dispute between Kakuk and the city. A 16-year Camas employee, Kakuk was terminated from his position as Geographic Information System coordinator in 2011 because he refused to comply with a psychological examination. Since then, he's been looking for proof of wrongdoing by the city, and he's leaving no stone unturned

Jennifer Gorsuch, the city's human resources director, said the requests have cost the city $25,000, primarily in staff time. But that figure is expected to increase in the future. After a seven-month lull, the city received a request as recent as the beginning of August.

"The extensive staff time being spent on the requests must be absorbed by the city budget and is a cost," Gorsuch said, "but it's not one that can be charged to the requestor, and it can't be recouped from anywhere."

The city does not charge for electronic copies of public records.

All told, 10 of the requests have been completed, while six are still being processed. The city expects to complete the current records requests next year. The city dedicates four employees to the project. They spend hours a week sorting through emails, redacting private information — such as Social Security numbers — before they can be sent.

Kakuk didn't return several messages left on his cellphone Friday and Monday.

Previously, he said the city had treated him unfairly and skewed his employment records. He's said he supports full transparency in the city.

He's also appealing a reckless driving citation he received last June.

According to court documents, Kakuk was driving through Camas when he saw an idling ambulance waiting to make a left turn onto Parker Street. Kakuk suddenly gunned the car toward the ambulance, swerved and, as he drove by, gave "a stern, aggressive look" and thumbs-up gesture toward the ambulance driver, court records stated.

None of the requested records relates to the ongoing case.

The most recent request, dated Aug. 8, asks for former City Administrator Lloyd Halverson's total compensation for 2012 and 2013. Kakuk is running against Halverson in a freeholder election.

Mayor Scott Higgins, who ran against Kakuk for mayor in 2011, said the records requests were a needless burden for city employees.

But as the months tick away, and the requests add up, Higgins said he sees no end in sight. That's frustrating, he added.

"It's costing us resources that we could use to get stuff done," he said.

Imperfect system

While public disclosure advocates point to the necessity of maintaining an equitable records system in which people have complete access to public documents, they acknowledge people can abuse the system.

The tiny town of Gold Bar in Snohomish County has found itself in a similar predicament, albeit with a more pronounced drain on city resources.

For years, Gold Bar fought the release of records to local blogger Anne Block, leading to a legal dispute that's cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Then there's convicted arsonist Allan Parmelee, who in 2004 began seeking information about corrections officers. The Washington Legislature handled that situation by limiting public records to people serving criminal sentences.

Attorney Judith Endejan, a Seattle-based media attorney, said it's not uncommon for some people to use the public records system to punish public entities.

"Unfortunately, some citizens improperly use the records act to get back at city officials who did something wrong to them," Endejan said.

It's the price we pay under the First Amendment, she said. And it's difficult to prove that someone is filing public records requests to punish a city.

Higgins, meanwhile, takes Kakuk at his word that he's mining city documents in the hope of finding a smoking gun.

But that smoking gun doesn't exist, Higgins said. The city will work to complete the requests.

"We're bound by the law, and that's a good thing," Higgins said, adding that the city aspires to transparency. "We're not trying to fight against the requests at all."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com