PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners have voted to settle a public records act violation complaint brought by Joseph D’Amico, owner and operator of Sequim-based Security Services Northwest, Inc., and Fort Discovery, a gun range and training facility formerly located in Discovery Bay, now in the permitting process to be located in Jefferson County near Tarboo Ridge.
Commissioners voted on the issue Monday to avoid litigation.
In agreeing to the settlement, the county disputes any violation of the state’s Public Records Act but determined that the cost of litigating the issue would likely be much more than the settlement amount of $6,165 which covers D’Amico’s attorney’s fees and filing costs.
In accepting the settlement offer, the county disagreed with D’Amico’s claims. They agreed to provide him with an unredacted copy of a personal email he had requested from District 3 Commissioner Kathleen Kler. The county and Kler had previously provided the document with redactions of personal health-related information.
Greg Overstreet, general counsel for Security Services Northwest, was pleased the matter was settled so expeditiously.
“We’re glad the county settled this case quickly,” Overstreet said. “It saves both sides a lot of legal fees and time. It’s a very efficient outcome. The county agreed to our proposal in full.”
Overstreet said his client will file public records act enforcement suits “when we believe Jefferson County has violated that law.”
The public records dispute arose out of a Jan. 8 request by D’Amico for any communications in Kler’s campaign or personal email accounts related to county business, especially with regard to a shooting moratorium and 38 other search terms.
This one request by D’Amico was in addition to 35 other public records requests he had filed Jan. 4. Some requested county records dating back to Jan. 1, 2009.
Kler searched for each of 38 terms in her personal home email account and provided copies of the emails to the county. On March 12, the county provided D’Amico 34 emails that contained any of the terms of his request. Of those emails, only three had not been previously forwarded to her official county email account as pertaining to county business.
Of the 34 emails given to D’Amico, 33 were provided in their entirety. One email provided in the spirit of transparency and fullest assistance was not a public record, but was a 2016 email exchange between two personal friends, Kler and Robin Ornelas.
That email was provided to D’Amico on March 12 with redactions of personal health information between the friends. One comment obliquely referencing D’Amico by Ornelas in the middle of the exchange referencing personal health information was left unredacted so D’Amico could read it. Kler did not respond to Ornelas’ email comment, nor as a commissioner did she follow up or use the side comment Ornelas made referencing D’Amico.
D’Amico demanded to see the unredacted email, or for the county to provide a Public Records Act exemption log for the redaction, on the assumption that the email was a public record rather than a personal email.
On April 10, D’Amico filed in Clallam County Superior Court a Complaint for Violation of Public Records Act. On the same day, Overstreet made a settlement offer to Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Haas to settle the claim for $6,165.
In approving D’Amico’s settlement offer, and to avoid expensive litigation, the county first sought and received permission from Kler and Ornelas to disclose their personal information to D’Amico.
A motion to approve the settlement offer was approved by Commissioners David Sullivan and Kate Dean in an open session after an executive session with legal counsel present. Kler abstained from the vote.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]