There was plenty of talk about government transparency at the Lakewood City Council meeting Monday.
As I reported last week, the city’s management hopes lawmakers can figure out a way that cities can recoup some of the cost they endure from people who habitually request public documents, which can require one, maybe two staffers tending to a single request.
One resident, public meetings regular Fredric Cornell, requested almost 78,000 pages worth of documents from Lakewood last year. The city estimated that by late October, his requests had cost almost $16,000 worth of staff time and resources.
On Monday, four residents told the Lakewood City Council that it should, if anything, work to become more transparent.
Paul Wagemann, a Clover Park School District board member, said the city’s approach to solving the dilemma appears more like an effort to be less transparent.
“Let’s make it as open as we possibly can,” he said, adding that, “The more we can get people involved, the better the community will be.”
Glen Spieth, another meeting regular, told the City Council, “You need to find a better way to provide the records.”
David Anderson, the face behind the failed effort two years ago to ban minicasinos in Lakewood, spoke about a letter written by city spokesman Jeff Brewster that was published in the TNT’s opinion page last Friday. In it, Brewster wrote about Cornell’s criminal history and practice of wearing a priest’s collar to meetings. (Cornell says he’s an ordained, Anglican priest; Brewster claims he isn’t)
Brewster is also one of two city employees whose e-mails are requested by Cornell on an almost weekly basis.
Anderson said Cornell’s past has nothing to do with the issues of government transparency and public records.
“I am asking that you,” Anderson told the City Council, “set an example and ask for an apology from this city employee.”
But Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz said the city is fully committed to open government and compliance with the law. He also must assure safety for city employees.
Neiditz has spoke publicly in the past about some employees being afraid of Cornell, who spends hours every week at Lakewood City Hall.
“I’ll be the first to volunteer an apology when one is warranted,” Neiditz told the City Council.
He added after the meeting: “In light of how disruptive the requester has been, I think there’s no apology warranted.”
The Lakewood City Council didn’t directly address the public records story, although Councilman Walter Neary described efforts among local governments to increase transparency.
There was even some backstage drama at Monday’s meeting. Following the public comments portion regarding open government, Cornell walked by Brewster, who was sitting a few rows behind him.
“Nice try,” Cornell whispered to him before walking back to his seat.