Public records request proved no foul play, but angers council members

A Fairview citizen’s request for public records followed by a plea for transparency was met with hostility Wednesday from three members of the Fairview City Council.

After Council President Lisa Barton Mullins, filling in for the evening in the absence of Mayor Mike Weatherby, opened the floor for citizens to speak, Steve Kaufman was the second to introduce his issue to council.

Kaufman, a Fairview resident and member of the city planning commission, had filed a public records request with the city on July 2.

Kaufman was asking to view all emails to and from Councilor Ken Quinby relating to all Fairview related business conducted between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2013, including appointments, committees, parks, sidewalks, riverfront and festivals.

“My intent originally was to find evidence of a quorum of counselors discussing business via email, which strictly violates the Public Hearing Act,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman served on the Fairview Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee since its inception about 15 years ago, until last November when the council told him he had a choice of serving on the parks committee or the planning commission, which he also served on, but not both.

Kaufman stayed with the planning commission. When a vacancy on the park committee, headed by Councilor Quinby, arose in June, and Kaufman was considered for the position, the council abruptly changed its mind and instead voted in Jeffrey Arnold, husband of Councilor Tami Arnold.

Kaufman said he became suspicious that counselors had reached that decision through an exchange of emails, outside of a council hearing.

Speaking to the council, Kaufman said he was satisfied with the number of emails provided by Quinby, but not other counselors.

Kaufman also requested all emails received or sent from all councilors relating to city business between June 1 and June 30, including all other email addresses used to conduct city business.

The request was fulfilled by counselors on July 29. Kaufman, who paid $182 for the request and spent hours sifting through 216 pages of emails, said he was not satisfied with the number of emails he received from other counselors, including Councilor Kreamier, of whom he received only two emails for all of June.

Kaufman said it’s difficult to believe some city business is not being decided outside the council chamber, adding that it appears serious issues move through the council meetings without discussion.

“It has the appearance that some of our councilors are here with an agenda and acting within their own best interest and not in the best interest of the other 9,000 Fairview residents,” Kaufman said.

Councilor Steve Prom was the first to respond.

“I strongly resent your accusation,” he said. “You got all my emails. I am really offended you can make an accusation of dishonesty.”

Kaufman said he asked for all emails to and from.

Prom said if he gets an email, he doesn’t necessarily respond and he doesn’t acknowledge every email.

Kaufman described his efforts as a search for ethics violations. But he went on to say he did not find evidence to support accusing any member of the council with a breach of ethics.

“The only thing I want is for everybody else to feel we are open and doing right things, and we are trying to move the city in the right direction.”

Councilor Kreamier responded by saying, “I really resent (you) questioning my temerity.” In response to the public records request, Kreamier said he asked the city recorder to provide copies of every email he had sent, received or deleted, which are all archived. The city recorder found and delivered two email messages.

“So I don’t know how you think I’m trying to hide something when they are archived,” Kreamier said.

“If I am off base … ” began Kaufman before he was interrupted by Kreamier shouting, “You are off base!” This was quickly followed by a knee-jerk retort from former councilor Brian Cooper sitting in the audience, and banging of the gavel by Councilor Barton-Mullins, who said the comment was out of order.

Kaufman said he saw emails that had been sent to Kreamier that should have been in the stack but were not.

Quinby said he spent half a week sifting through emails one by one out of “a crashed archive.”

In questioning Kaufman, Quinby asked, “You did not find anything. Is that true?” Kaufman replied by saying, “Yes, that’s true. There is nothing that would prove the city is conducting business over email.”

Quinby used that opportunity to add his strong objections to Kaufman’s accusations.

“I also resent what you did,” Quinby said. “You could have come to anyone of us to say there is a public perception.”

After the meeting, Kaufman said he did not receive the response he had hoped for.

“The best response would have been for them to say, ‘We are not doing anything (wrong). We are sorry we are providing that appearance,’ ” Kaufman said. “People need to be able to trust people in that position.”

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