Lawsuit filed against Port alleging records violation


McCleary resident Tim Hamilton has been in a battle lately to preserve the rights of recreational fishermen.

He and a few fishermen sued the state Fish &Wildlife Department last year over claims that commercial gillnetters were gobbling up too much salmon and putting the industry at risk. The lawsuit was settled and he’s now working with Fish &Wildlife to get better scientific data that reflects the potential impact gillnetters have on the fishing industry.

He was curious, then, when last fall he heard the Port of Grays Harbor was running advertisements on the radio espousing the benefits of the commercial fishing industry. He hadn’t heard the ads personally. He just heard about them. Frankly, he wondered if the Port was taking a side in the gillnetting issues.

So, he contacted the Port. He made a public records request for the ads and everything related to them.

The first answer he received was that the ads didn’t exist.

Records request

Thus, began a quest to drill hard into the Port’s records via record requests, a conflict over what’s in the Port’s records or what he thinks should be. And, ultimately, it all led to a lawsuit Hamilton filed last month against the Port of Grays Harbor, citing multiple violations of the state Public Records Act. Hamilton said he contacted a local radio station about the ads and the ad was played for him. It was Port Commissioner Stan Pinnick’s voice talking mainly about the commercial fishing industry at Westport.

“The Port of Grays Harbor salutes the fishermen who bring in the catch each season; the seafood processors who clean, can or freeze the product, and, the truck drivers and distributors that deliver the fish to market,” Pinnick says in the ad.

Pinnick never mentions gillnetting. The Port was not weighing in on the gillnetting issue. Frankly, Hamilton said had the ad just been sent to him, he might just have dropped it all.

But he said he felt misled.

He contacted the Port again. Records turned over by Hamilton show that he told the Port attorney Art Blauvelt where to find the ad. He also again re-iterated he wanted all of the records related to the ads.

Money

At this point, he said, he wondered how much money the Port was spending on its radio advertising campaign, how they conducted their research involving their ad campaigns and what the process was.

Eventually, he received a communications plan drafted by a consultant and one invoice for $1,800.

He also received a few reports drafted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He received the script Pinnick used for the ad. And he received an MP3 file — of a completely different ad, this one featuring Port Commissioner Jack Thompson.

“I guess I just don’t understand these ads and who they’re catering for or what they’re supposed to do,” Hamilton said. “It’s not like we have a Chrysler CEO living in town listening to the radio station. Are these ads just to make the Port feel better about itself? Frankly, it feels like campaign ads for their port commissioners.”

A communications plan produced by a consultant working for the Port, and provided to Hamilton, states that the purpose of the ads is part of a larger community education campaign “that informs the Grays Harbor businesses and citizens of the opportunities and successes of the Port of Grays Harbor.”

“The information you provided helped me find the right person to get to the bottom of this,” Blauvelt told Hamilton in an email. “The purpose of the email was to help me in my search. It worked. There was no subterfuge or deception intended.”

Hamilton said he’s still missing records that should have been part of his request. He said he made an inquiry to the Port and waited, but never received anything else.

One email from the consultant to Blauvelt notes that the Port should have had the contracts between the radio station and the Port. Those contracts, with how much money the Port is spending on its advertising campaign, were never turned over, Hamilton said. The original radio spot with Pinnick’s voice was also never turned over.

The lawsuit was filed on June 10 in Grays Harbor Superior Court.

The original records request was done on Oct. 22.

“While some documents were provided, the Port did not provide any documents from its own files other than, perhaps, the written transcript. Not included were any internal communications, pay records, the audio itself, contracts with the radio station or communications to and from the radio stations, calendar or scheduled and other documents that were likely created,” attorney Joe Frawley writes in the lawsuit.

$100 a day fine possible

The lawsuit seeks the maximum fine possible — $100 for each day for each document that Hamilton was denied the right to inspect or copy the records at hand between Oct. 24, 2013, and the date of judgment; as well as all costs and attorney fees.

Blauvelt sent a letter to Frawley explaining everything that was turned over. Blauvelt said the Port was never in possession of the original Pinnick radio spot so can’t turn it over. He did, however, turn over the billings from the two radio stations for September and October of 2013.

 

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