Public record requests are often used by investigative journalists to uncover wasteful spending or activists to catch politicians breaking campaign law.
But last week, County Commissioner Al French sent the City of Spokane a sprawling public records request — with 36 different bullet points — for another reason: to get four Spokane city council members to cite their sources.
The four council members — Candace Mumm, Amber Waldref, Jon Snyder and Council President Ben Stuckart — passed a city ordinance that they saw as closing a gaping loophole in the state's growth management law. As is, developers "vested" in a newly expanded Urban Growth Area can proceed with projects — even if the urban expansion is later found to be invalid. The city ordinance would have denied certain utility services in such areas until an expansion's legal challenges had been cleared up. But in the end, Mayor David Condon vetoed it.
That hasn't stopped French from objecting to statements made by the council members.
"The justification for taking the action that the city wanted to take, was, in my opinion, driven more by politics and not by facts," French says. Instead of a press release or press conference, he says, this records request forces the council to stick to the evidence. "You need a good foundation of facts and not a bunch of rumor and accusations and innuendo."
The request asks for responses before April 30, in anticipation of a May 12 forum. French argues that many of the council statements radically mischaracterize the nature of the county's growth expansion, the cost to the city and the impact to city utility ratepayers.
It begins with some relatively basic requests — asking for studies and policies related to the city's utility services. But other points seem rhetorical: One bullet point asks for a list of Spokane neighborhoods willing to have areas "demolished to ... to achieve the City's desired density."
Another wants proof the vesting process can be considered a loophole at all. "Mr. [Jon] Snyder in his closing comments on March 17, 2014 stated, 'We are simply trying to close a loophole,'" the request says. "Please provide copies of any legal authority or any court ruling or statute upon which the concept of 'vesting' is defined as a loophole."
Several bullet points target Snyder personally: "Please provide a copy of the Oath of Office wherein Mr. Snyder swore to uphold the laws of the State of Washington," the request says after pointing out current vesting laws are state law.
Stuckart sees the commissioner as posturing. "It seems personal. The questions were very snarky," he says. "A very interesting way to start a cooperative dialogue."
But French reiterates that it's just about the facts.
"If there's actually documentation to support it, then what's the issue?" French says. "If there's not factual documentation, why did you say there was?"♦