Public records lawsuit against county withdrawn

Vancouver man who filed suit may re-file later

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

Updated: December 11, 2013, 2:09 PM

 

A Vancouver man withdrew on Wednesday a lawsuit he filed just one day prior that alleged Clark County officials ignored his public records request.

Ed Ruttledge’s lawsuit alleged that the county did not respond whatsoever to his May 31 request for documents related to why county commissioners hired state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to head the Environmental Services Department.

Ruttledge’s lawyer, Greg Ferguson, said Wednesday morning that Ruttledge has since discovered an email response he received from the county on June 10.

“The original email message was resident on a hard drive that failed and was later replaced,” according to a press release from Ferguson’s office.

According to state public disclosure laws, agencies have five days to respond to a public records request by either handing over the requested documents, denying the request based on legal exemptions, or by giving the person an estimated wait time for fulfilling the request.

“In the June 10 email, the county promised to provide additional records on June 18, 2013,” Ferguson said. “At this point, we are trying to determine with finality if that ever happened.”

To make sure, Ruttledge submitted another public records request on Wednesday, asking for any other county correspondence sent to him about his May 31 request. Ferguson said Ruttledge plans to wait and see how the county responds to his May 31 request, but that he may file a similar lawsuit in the future if the response is unsatisfactory.

County officials declined to comment on the matter on Tuesday, when Ruttledge filed the complaint.

“It’s county policy that we don’t comment on pending litigation,” said Holley Gilbert, a spokeswoman for Clark County.

Documents sought

Ruttledge’s May 31 request seeks documents that would show any changes commissioners made to the county’s human resources policy manual during the year leading up to May 8. He also asked for copies of board minutes or public notices that would have alerted residents to such policy changes.

“The records at issue here, had they been timely provided, could have revealed whether county commissioners initiated or perhaps even inked a back-room deal before Benton’s candidacy for the (director) position was even announced,” Ferguson said in a statement on Tuesday.

On May 1, Republican county Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke announced that they planned to hire Benton, a political ally. Democratic Commissioner Steve Stuart vehemently opposed tapping Benton as director of environmental services and alleged “political cronyism” was at play.

Those opposed to the Benton hire said his qualifications didn’t match those in the job description on the county’s website. At the time of the hire, Madore and Mielke said Benton was the person they wanted for the job, because he’s a proven leader who recognizes the importance of economic growth. Bill Barron, then the county administrator, warned Madore and Mielke that appointing Benton to the post without considering other candidates would fly in the face of standard hiring procedures.

Ruttledge is a frequent commenter on The Columbian’s website and has voiced his concerns at public meetings about the decision to hire Benton. The suit he withdrew sought up to $100 in fines for each day he believed the county ignored his request.