Marysville fined $143,740 for withholding emails in Cedar Grove dispute
Cedar Grove Composting requested thousands of emails and other documents under the state’s public-records act. The judge wrote that he found “strategic planning on Marysville’s part to avoid or delay the production of the documents.”
Seattle Times staff reporter
The city of Marysville must pay $143,740 in fines for withholding more than 200 emails related to its fight against Cedar Grove Composting.
Marysville hired an outside consultant to work with a citizens group on a campaign against Cedar Grove’s compost plant outside the city limits in Snohomish County.
The city and some residents blame Cedar Grove for bad odors wafting through the neighborhoods. Cedar Grove says the smell isn’t its fault. The ongoing dispute is now the subject of a study and two class-action lawsuits.
Cedar Grove requested thousands of emails and other documents under the state’s public-records act. The city was wrong to withhold some emails, and Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Richard Okrent ruled Monday in a summary judgment that the city must pay the fine.
The judge wrote that he found “strategic planning on Marysville’s part to avoid or delay the production of the documents.”
At issue are 15 emails the city initially refused to turn over, saying they were protected as legal advice. Cedar Grove wrote a letter challenging the city, so the city released them. The judge also faulted the city for failing to turn up 19 emails between city staff and the consultant, Strategies 360.
Most surprising to the city, the judge fined it for not turning over 173 internal Strategies 360 emails related to the Cedar Grove work. The judge said the consultants were acting like city employees, so their emails should have been subject to public disclosure.
“It never occurred to the city that the [state records law] applied to internal emails that it didn’t have,” said Jeff Myers, Marysville’s attorney. “We were just shocked and greatly surprised that [the court] imposed such a harsh penalty for not anticipating the extension of the law into an entirely new area.”
The e-mails eventually released by Marysville include Strategies 360 consultants discussing using the mayor’s personal e-mail address and communicating with city officials by phone to try to avoid creating documents they would have to release as public records.
“The city basically concocted this scheme by which Strategies would withhold documents and circumvent the [public records] act,” said Cedar Grove attorney Michael Moore.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter