Jefferson County commissioners approve $50,000 settlement over public records request

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners unanimously approved a $50,000 settlement with a Clark County man Monday after county officials forgot to fulfill his public records request in 2016.

Alan Harvey filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County Superior Court on Nov. 17, 2017, which reminded the county it never fulfilled his records request.

“From what I understand, there was no ill intent meant” said Commissioner Kathleen Kler. “It was not an attempt to hide or deny; it was a staff error of forgetting, which has consequences.”

The settlement was recommended by the prosecuting attorney’s office and the county’s risk manager.

Harvey requested records from Jefferson County on Nov. 16, 2016. A timely response to the request was sent Nov. 18, 2016, promising responsive records by Jan. 13, 2017. The county promptly provided the records once he filed suit.

In the months after Harvey filed his public records request, the county purchased the GovQA public records management system.

“There are so many needs that go unfunded, it’s frustrating to be spending any additional resources on this,” said Commissioner Kate Dean. “I share [staff’s] concern and regret.”

The county handles about 500 requests each year, most of which are handled properly, said County Administrator Philip Morley.

He said the goal was to settle the lawsuit as quickly as possible because there was no reason to engage in litigation. Had the lawsuit continued in court, it could have cost taxpayers even more money, he said.

State law allows judges to asses a penalty of up to $100 per day for each document the county withheld. Though unlikely, the county could have been forced to pay more than $2.5 million for the 70 documents.

“We regret the mistake and want to move on and continue to work on strengthening our system,” Morley said.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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