March 21, 2012 in City

$400,000 OK’d to settle records case

County payout ends inquiry on nepotism
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Spokane County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $400,000 settlement in a 6-year-old case stemming from an open records request.

The Neighborhood Alliance of Spokane County won on appeal before the state Supreme Court last September, setting the stage for Tuesday’s action.

The alliance in 2005 sought public records to learn whether Steve Harris, the son of former Commissioner Phil Harris, was given a job prior to a formal hiring process. The alliance was seeking evidence of nepotism.

Copies of a seating chart had the names of “Ron and Steve” on one cubicle, and the alliance sought corroborating records to identify the two.

The trial court dismissed a subsequent lawsuit in 2008, but the alliance appealed.

The justices ruled the county did an inadequate search and that the county improperly rejected an alliance request to identify “Ron and Steve.”

The case was sent back to Lincoln County, where it was initially filed to determine penalties under the state’s open records act.

County officials later said the seating chart was a reference to another employee named Steve. However, a plaintiff’s attorney said there were two people named Steve on the chart.

The county’s risk manager estimated that penalties and legal costs under the law could have reached $650,000.

An agenda summary said the Supreme Court essentially gave the alliance a “blank check.” The penalties and lawyer fees have accrued over time.

Tim Connor, communications director for the Center for Justice, which represented the alliance, said in a prepared statement that the settlement is reportedly the third-largest involving public records in the U.S.


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