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Assessor office requests traced to ex-employee

SATURDAY, MARCH 26, 2011

Anonymous requests for hundreds of thousands of Spokane County assessor’s records have been traced to a former employee.

Appraiser Josh Bungen, who resigned Jan. 5, used untraceable Hotmail email addresses to request what Assessor Vicki Horton said was enough documents to cripple her office.

Bungen’s 16 requests included a demand for every email ever sent or received by the assessor’s office. Before Bungen abandoned all his requests except for the emails, county officials delivered about 4,000 electronic “pages” containing records of a quarter-million property sales.

The data was placed in a special account on the county computer network for the still-anonymous Bungen to download.

When he did so, county officials identified Bungen by capturing the network address of his home computer. Bungen had used the same address to log into the county computer network while working from his home.

Bungen said in an interview Thursday he is working on a whistleblower complaint.

Horton, who took office in January, believes Bungen is trying to hobble the assessor’s office because he resents her election victory over Ralph Baker.

She said her office delivered 7,688 electronic pages this week. To produce the information, a county employee spent eight hours reviewing 3,653 emails that required redactions.

Horton said she can’t afford to devote more than an hour a day to the project. Based on progress so far, she estimated the job will take 18 years.

Bungen said his attorney advised him not to say what he’s trying to find.

It’s something that happened while Baker was assessor, “something that got them to where they are today,” Bungen said. “But it wouldn’t have been anything that he was responsible for.”

One of Bungen’s anonymous emails, sent Feb. 5, disparaged Horton with language similar to Baker’s in a letter to the editor that was posted Feb. 4 on The Spokesman-Review’s website.

“When I saw his letter, I just used the same verbiage in my emails because it sounded pretty good,” Bungen said. “But Ralph had nothing to do with the records request.”

Bungen’s caustic prose in a letter to the state Department of Revenue while working in the Klickitat County assessor’s office, from Jan. 12 to March 10, was “very offensive and out of line,” according to Klickitat County Commissioner Rex Johnston.

The letter invited state officials to intervene in what Bungen suggested was commissioners’ complicity in the “chronic gross negligence” of an assessor who was voted out of office in November.

Bungen would have been fired if his five-month emergency appointment as chief appraiser had been under commissioners’ control, Johnston said in the board’s March 1 meeting.

Bungen said his fill-in position ended when Karen Reisenauer, a Spokane County appraiser who resigned March 4, was given the permanent job.

Klickitat County’s new assessor, Darlene Johnson, said Bungen did an “awesome” job and wasn’t fired.



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