Jefferson commissioners approve $150,000 lawsuit settlement

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County Commissioners have approved a $150,000 settlement after a roughly four-year legal battle over the county’s internet access logs.

According to a statement from County Administrator Philip Morley, the settlement was negotiated between Jefferson County officials and Michael Belenski, who sued the county in 2012 after he was denied two public records requests.

Belenski made two requests, one in 2010 and another in 2011, asking for more than 300 million log entries from the county’s internet access logs. Belenski was seeking logs that show the websites visited by county employees and how much time was spent on each site.

According to Morley’s statement, the settlement includes that the county will make enhancements to “promote further transparency and improve public access to public records.”

Those improvements include that county internet access logs will be available under the Public Records Act; the county will reinstate the computer firewall that collects internet access logs; the county will publicly redact logs to the county website on a monthly basis; and the county will keep a one-year archive of all redacted and original logs on rolling-basis.

The settlement also states that the county will have until Aug. 31 to hire a full-time public records administrator who will supervise the current public records officer, county administrator and will oversee all public records management.

According to Morley’s statement, the county had already budgeted this position into the 2017 budget.

All of that is on top of the $150,000 paid out to Belenski, but the settlement does mean the case is permanently dismissed.

According to the approved agreement, the $150,000 will be paid out of the county’s non-departmental budget. That $150,000 will be replaced with supplemental budget appropriations from the county’s general fund.

The settlement is the end of a roughly four-year legal battle between Jefferson County and Belenski.

Efforts to reach Belenski on Monday were unsuccessful.

Belenski sued Jefferson County in Clallam County Superior Court in 2012. However, Judge George Wood ruled in 2013 in favor of Jefferson County’s decision that internet access logs were not public record under the state Public Records Act.

Belenski appealed the decision and the case went on to Division One of the Washington Court of Appeals, where a panel of three judges reversed the decision and ruled in favor of Belenski.

After the Court of Appeals decision, the county gave Belenski copies of all the internet access logs he had previously requested, however the county had redacted information that could jeopardize the county’s computer network.

After that, the county turned off the firewall that was recording internet access logs — the same firewall that will be turned back on as part of the settlement agreement.

The settlement was signed by Belenski on April 20 and the county commissioners approved it during their Monday morning meeting, officially closing the case.

County Administrator Philip Morley, Commissioner Kate Dean and Commissioner David Sullivan could not be reached for comment after Monday’s meeting.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.

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